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Arthur C. Clarke Dies at Age 90

 From the Washington Post


Arthur C. Clarke; Sci-Fi Writer Foresaw Mankind's Possibilities

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19, 2008; B07

Arthur C. Clarke, 90, the world-famous science-fiction writer, futurist 
and unofficial poet laureate of the space age, died of a respiratory 
ailment March 18 at his home in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Mr. Clarke co-wrote, with director Stanley Kubrick, the screenplay for 
"2001: A Space Odyssey," which is regarded by many as one of the most 
important science fiction films made. A prolific writer, with more than 
100 published books, he was praised for his ability to foresee the 
possibilities of human innovation and explain them to non-scientific 

The most famous example is from 1945, when he first proposed the idea of 
communications satellites that could be based in geostationary orbits, 
which keep satellites in a fixed position relative to the ground.

Some scoffed, but the idea was proved almost a generation later with the 
launch of Early Bird, the first of the commercial satellites that 
provide global communications networks for telephone, television and 
high-speed digital communication. The orbit is now named Clarke Orbit by 
the International Astronomical Union.

"He had influenced the world in the best way possible," writer Ray 
Bradbury said in Neil McAleer's 1992 book "Arthur C. Clarke: The 
Authorized Biography." "Arthur's ideas have sent silent engines into 
space to speak in tongues. His fabulous communications satellite 
ricocheted about in his head long before it leaped over the mountains 
and flatlands of the Earth."

In addition to his books, he wrote more than 1,000 short stories and 
essays. One of his short stories, "Dial F for Frankenstein" (1964), 
inspired British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee to invent the World 
Wide Web in 1989.

Mr. Clarke also popularized the idea of a space elevator as an 
energy-efficient alternative to rockets. Conceived by a Russian engineer 
in 1960 and re-invented at least four times in the next decades, Mr. 
Clarke's inclusion of the idea in a 1979 novel brought it to popular 
attention and helped launch a new field of study. He told New Scientist 
magazine last year that it would be built "50 years after everyone stops 

But it was his collaboration with Kubrick in the 1968 film that made him 
internationally famous. The screenplay for "2001: A Space Odyssey" was 
based on Mr. Clarke's 1951 short story "The Sentinel," and Mr. Clarke 
simultaneously wrote the companion novel, which was released three 
months after the film and was believed by many to be a more detailed 
explanation of the ideas in the film.

Mr. Clarke's work inspired the names of spacecraft, an asteroid and a 
species of dinosaur. He joined American broadcaster Walter Cronkite as a 
commentator on the Apollo moonshots in the late 1960s. Two television 
series in the 1980s spread his ideas around the world.

He was knighted in 1998, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 and 
received the Franklin Institute gold medal, the United Nations 
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-Kalinga Prize and 
other honors.

Mr. Clarke, a resident of Sri Lanka since 1956, worked with Jacques 
Cousteau and others to help perfect scuba equipment. He moved to the 
country, then known as Ceylon, to open a dive shop and explore the 
undersea world. Disabled by post-polio syndrome, the lingering effects 
of a disease that had paralyzed him for two months in 1959, Mr. Clarke 
said diving was as close as he could get to the weightless feeling of space.

"I'm perfectly operational underwater," he once said.

His dive shop was destroyed in the 2004 tsunami.

Born Dec. 17, 1917, in Minehead, Somerset, England, he was the son of a 
postal service engineer turned farmer and a post office telegrapher. He 
became addicted to science fiction at 11.

In 1936, he moved to London and joined the British Interplanetary 
Society and began writing science fiction. After enlisting in the Royal 
Air Force in 1941, he became a radar instructor and participated in the 
development of ground-controlled landings of aircraft under 
zero-visibility conditions. That experience proved the inspiration for 
his only non-science-fiction novel, "Glide Path."

It is also where, in 1945, he wrote an RAF memo about satellites. He 
later revised it and submitted it as "Extra-Terrestrial Relays" to 
Wireless World, which almost rejected it as too far-fetched. He was 
wrong about some things: He expected that three satellites would take 
care of the world's communication needs and that each would require a 
crew in residence.

After World War II, Mr. Clarke obtained a bachelor of science degree in 
physics and mathematics at King's College, London.

In 1954, Mr. Clarke wrote to Harry Wexler, then chief of the Scientific 
Services Division at the U.S. Weather Bureau, about satellite 
applications for weather forecasting. From these discussions, a new 
branch of meteorology was born.

Mr. Clarke's marriage to Marilyn Mayfield ended in divorce. Survivors 
include a brother and sister, both of whom live in England.

According to a news release from the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation, Mr. 
Clarke reviewed the final manuscript of his latest science fiction 
novel, "The Last Theorem," a few days ago. It is scheduled to be 
published later this year.

Although he rarely left Sri Lanka, he kept in touch with the rest of the 
world by using the satellite communication he predicted so long ago. He 
told the Associated Press that he didn't regret never going into space 
because he had arranged to have the DNA from his hair sent into orbit.

"Some day, some super civilization may encounter this relic from the 
vanished species and I may exist in another time," he said.

In a 90th birthday video recorded in December, Mr. Clarke said he had 
only three last wishes: That someone find evidence of extraterrestrial 
life; that the world adopt clean energy sources; and that an end be 
found to the long civil war in Sri Lanka.

"I'm sometimes asked how I would like to be remembered. I've had a 
diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer, space promoter and 
science populariser," he said. "Of all these, I want to be remembered 
most as a writer -- one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, 
stretched their imagination as well."
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