Remembering Sir Arthur C Clarke
First death anniversary today:
Clarke has received many awards,fellowships and honours from
around the world, including several doctorates. He shared
with Stanley Kubrick an Oscar nomination in 1969 for his
screenplay of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and was nominated for
the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994
Today we are commemorating the 1st death anniversary of one of the
greatest sons of the world and a promoter of Sri Lanka who brought the
whole world to a one tiny global village ? Sir Arthur C Clarke. He is
best known as the inventor of the communications satellite.
Sir Clarke, who had battled debilitating post-polio syndrome since
the 1960s and sometimes used a wheelchair, died a year ago, at 1:30 a.m.
on March 19, 2008 after suffering breathing problems. He was 90 at the
time of his death and he lived in Sri Lanka for over 52 years.
Arthur Charles Clarke was born on December 16, 1917 in the English
coastal town of Minehead, in Somerset. The eldest of four children, he
enjoyed stargazing as a child and had a great enthusiasm for science
fiction pulp magazines. When Clarke was 14 his father, Charles Wright
Clarke, a farmer, died and the family’s savings were said to be
His mother Mary Nora Willis had offered riding lessons to offset
their money troubles, but she was unable to provide enough money for her
son to attend university. As such, Clarke was forced to look for work.
He worked as a clerk in Her Majesty’s Exchequer and Audit Department in
London, where he joined the British Interplanetary Society and wrote his
first short stories and scientific articles on space travel.
His apartment eventually had became the headquarters to the British
Interplanetary Society, with Clarke becoming its Chairman in 1949.
C Clarke in his library
Even as he served as a radar specialist in the Royal Air Force during
World War II, he was simultaneously writing and submitting science
fiction stories and technical papers. But it was a Royal Air Force memo
he wrote in 1945 about the future of communications that led him to
fame. It was about the possibility of using satellites to revolutionize
communications. Clarke later sent it to a publication called Wireless
World magazine, which almost rejected the idea as too far-fetched.
However, in 1945 the technical paper was accepted and published in
the same magazine under the topic “Extra-terrestrial Relays” laying down
the principles of the satellite communication with satellites in
geostationary orbits - a speculation realized only 25 years later.
His invention has brought him numerous honors, such as the 1982
Marconi International Fellowship, a gold medal of the Franklin
Institute, the Vikram Sarabhai Professorship of the Physical Research
Laboratory, Ahmedabad, the Lindbergh Award and a Fellowship of King’s
Today, the geostationary orbit at 42,000 kilometers is named The
Clarke Orbit by the International Astronomical Union. The first story
Clarke sold professionally was “Rescue Party”, written in March 1945 and
appearing in Astounding Science in May 1946.
He obtained first class honors BSc degree in Physics and Mathematics
at the King’s College, London, in 1948. In the 1950s, Clarke’s interest
in underwater exploration brought him to Sri Lanka, where he has lived
since 1956. He is technical advisor to the diving company Underwater
Safaris Ltd., and for half a century, he has written and broadcast
extensively promoting Sri Lanka as a tourist destination.
Sir Clarke was a person with a kind heart and always ready to help
the Sri Lankans.
He supported the Mathematical and Astronomical Society of the
University of Colombo in various ways and in particular to protect the
more than 100 years old 32 cm Molesworth telescope housed in the
observatory dome in the university play ground.
Sir Arthur C Clarke was an author of over 100 books and more than
1,000 essays or short stories. His writing also inspired the initiation
of World Wide Web and the Apollo project that landed men on the Moon. He
has made many appearances on radio and television, and his TV series,
Mysterious World, World of Strange Powers, and Mysterious Universe, have
been seen worldwide.
Sir Clarke has received many awards, fellowships and honours from
around the world, including several doctorates. He shared with Stanley
Kubrick an Oscar nomination in 1969 for his screenplay of 2001: A Space
Odyssey, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 for services to
literature. Among his many distinctions, and in addition to the Clarke
Orbit, Sir Arthur could also boast both an asteroid (4923 Clarke) as
well as a species of Ceratopsian dinosaur, Serendipaceratops
arthurcclarkei, named in his honor. In 1986 the Arthur C. Clarke Award
was established in UK to encourage excellence in British science
He became the first ‘Resident Guest’ of the Sri Lanka in 1975. Sri
Lanka too has bestowed on him the highest honours that she could give.
In 1979 Sir Clarke was appointed the Chancellor of the University of
Moratuwa, a position Clarke held until 2002.
In 1984, the government named a newly established Institute for
Modern Technologies in Katubedda, Moratuwa in his honour. Today Arthur C
Clarke Centre for Modern Technologies, which comes under the Ministry of
Science and Technology, among other technology services, houses the
biggest telescope in Sri Lanka with a team of scientists in its Space
Applications Division working for the development and promotion of
astronomy in Sri Lanka.
Sir Arthur C Clarke was the Patron of the ACCIMT till his demise in
2008. Moreover, he was honored with Vidya Jyothi (Luminary of Science)
award from the President of Sri Lanka in 1986, Sahithyaratna (Gem of
Literature) lifetime achievement award from National Arts Council, Sri
Lanka in 2005 and Lankabhimanya (‘Pride of Lanka’), the highest civilian
honour from the President of Sri Lanka in 2005.
Sri Lanka is to launch its first satellite soon. This will be a
Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) type satellite orbiting the earth at a distance of
about 780 km from the earth surface. The satellite is named after Sir
Arthur C. Clarke, a kind of a honour that we could give to remember him
even among our future generation. A second satellite too, a
geostationary type, is due to follow the Arthur C. Clarke LEO.
At the 90th birthday party given for Sir Arthur C Clarke in December
2007 under the patronage of the Government of Sri Lanka and held at the
auditorium of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Sir Arthur C Clarke said he
had three wishes: for Sri Lanka’s raging civil war to end, for the world
to embrace cleaner sources of energy and for evidence of
extraterrestrial beings to be discovered. The first wish of this
visionary scientist is almost fulfilled within a year after his death!
The writer is a Senior Lecturer in Physics, University of Colombo and
the Consultant to the Space Applications Division of the Arthur C Clarke
Centre for Modern Technologies, Katubedda, Moratuwa.