Remembering Arthur C. Clarke

Yesterday, March 18, 2008, Sir Arthur C. Clarke passed away, at the age of 90, at a friend's home in Sri Lanka, where he had gone to live after his marriage failed. Suffering the illnesses that come with existing without one's mate lovingly, prostate and alzheimers, and complications of some polio causing wheelchair existence the last dozen years. Nonetheless, he had enjoyed the results of having communicated some mind-boggling insights that led to the telecommunications industry now in robust activity, for one thing.

Starting as a farm boy, he helped in research development of radar in Britain - research that had been shared with the United States enough to have a radar station working in Pearl Harbor in 1941 but the interpretation of its indications were not understood enough by its operators enough to sound the warning that it was intended to make, that would have saved much damage on December 7, 1941 in Pearl Harbor - a too frequent happening when the implications of a technology are not fully comprehended by those who later would utilize it - we now consider radar as everyday items in weather radar displays seen on our computer screen at home via the internet or TV, as well as speed detection radar worries when in too much of a hurry to get somewhere. Although he did not invent radar, he helped make it a reality. It was based on measuring the time it takes for a directional radio pulse wave to travel over to an object, bounce off of the object, and return to you; knowing how fast the radio pulse goes, near the speed of light, one then knows how far away the object is.

He was more of a visionary, telling of potentials of technology. In 1945, long before space travel was anything but fantasy science fiction, he contemplated the possibility of a man-made object in orbit around the Earth, orbiting the earth like the Moon does, and realized there was one particular orbit which would have a very unique quality with great usefulness. This would be an orbit in which the velocity needed to create the centrifugal force enough to just balance the gravitational pull of the Earth, if moving in the same direction as the Earth rotates, and was always traveling far above the Earth's equator, when at an altitude of 22,300 miles the orbiting object would move with the identical angular velocity of the Earth's rotation and thus would appear to stay motionless in place continuously over that same spot on the Earth, thus could be used as a communications relay between points on the ground which could both see the object up there in a stationary position relative to the Earth. Thus the "satellite dishes" which can be seen many places; they are aimed at some telecommunications satellite far up there in that 22,300 mile high orbit as predicted by Arthur C. Clarke, back in 1945, published then in a radio magazine. That special orbit high above the equator is now called the Clarke Orbit, Clarke Belt, or Geostationary Earth Orbit, often abbreviated "GEO."

His comprehension of the movement of things through the varying gravitational field of a planet, a force field which rapidly decreases the higher you get, specifically reducing inversely as the square of the distance from the center of the Earth in this case; and the dynamics of centrifugal force on rotating objects, and the ability to integrate diverse scientific and technological principles, enabled him to produce many ideas and communicated them through many books, such as "The Exploration of Space" of which I have a copy of the 1954 paperback version which was often very significant inspiration for perhaps most of my space transportation concepts.

Well known for being author of the story behind the movie "2001: A Space Odessy" directed by Stanley Kubrick, in which the classic wheel-like space station is portrayed, much as the artist Chesley Bonnestell painted for magazine covers in the 1950's, he wrote science fiction as well as scientifically based technological visions.

Through his technological and science fiction writings, he provided key insights that helped me cope with the need to provide real numbers to my efforts to find ways for mankind to easily expand civilization hugely into space with the technology basis already in existence. My concepts of the Mooncable, the Centristation, and the stress and energy calculations upon which the potentials of industrial uses of the Clarke Orbit or Clarke Belt could be massively utilized to maybe even "save the planet" to use the popular term these days, often linked well with Clarke's concepts. In the back of his novel "Fountains of Paradise" about building a space elevator to the earth surface, he comments that many people had independently "invented" the concept of the anchored tether space elevator, a climbing structure supported by the centrifugal force of a weight being swung by the Earth's 24 hour daily rotation like a tether ball, as he also did; and I had done that too in 1969, all unaware of each others' efforts; but we all were later than its invention by a Russian, Artsunov, who was the first to independently invent the concept and publish it, unknown to the rest of us. Many of us also came up with the same basic idea without awareness of the others' efforts, including myself and Arthur Clarke. My prior pondering of the gravitational field and rotational concepts in Clarke's writings no doubt helped slide the insight of using the Earth itself to bend a kinetic energy supported transportation spinning belt system to reach from the Earth surface around up to the Clarke Belt above the opposite side of the planet.

The flow of ideas and their combination potentials and what could be done with them, seem invisibly arm-in-arm for many visionaries, and I feel much gratitude for Arthur C. Clarke. I have also even found myself writing science fiction utilizing these concepts, particularly my 2006 novel "Building Up" (see to read it online) which involved both building the tethered space elevator and the wheel-like space station under construction and use in the novel.

I feel sad that his later years were so difficult, including loss of his mate and eventual reduction to wheelchair and fading memory, but he did have some fun times wandering the beach, and exploring the sea beyond the edge of the seashore beach via scuba diving, to explore the quite different world along the bottom of the ocean and in the waters above it, populated by diverse creatures looking and acting much like the "bug eyed monsters" of some science fiction stories, but in the sea were real living creatures with ways quite different from our human lives.

Arthur C. Clarke experienced the imaginative living of his concepts both in technological writings and science fiction adventures, and I have often found myself walking in the footsteps he left in the sand on the seashore of time.

By James E D Cline on 20080319, 1105 hrs.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home