(1908 – 1994)
The founder of the British Interplanetary Society, P.E. Cleator, was born in the Cheshire town of Wallasey on 7th June 1908, the son of a structural design engineer. He later recorded that his interest in Space was kindled in the mid-1920s by a film about radium and its proposed use as a nuclear fuel. The closing scene was of a rocket-like vehicle heading for the empyrean, trailing a radioactive glow astern. He was later to relate “I have no idea how other members of the audience reacted to this spectacular vision of the future, but it certainly made a lasting impression upon me.”
This interest was intensified by news of the VfR in Germany and the American Interplanetary Society (AIS) in the US. He made contact with the AIS in 1931, and in January 1934 made a visit to Germany to meet the (by then) nearly defunct VfR, and where he met Willy Ley (q.v.). Ley in turn was able to give him a list of space travel enthusiasts around the world, including Prof. A.M. Low. In 1933 Cleator was able to publish a letter in the Liverpool Echo calling upon anyone interested in the interplanetary idea to get in touch, thus planting the seeds for the formation of the British Interplanetary Society later in 1933.
His subsequent activities on behalf of the infant organization entailed attending to numerous enquiries, travelling about the country interviewing new and prospective members, making trips to confer with rocket experimenters in Germany and elsewhere, writing articles and preparing and delivering lectures, some of which were broadcast by him from radio stations in London, Capetown, Johannesburg – all such activities being undertaken “at the expense of the more mundane task of earning a living.” His book Rockets Through Space was published in 1936 – acting as a key advertisement for the nascent BIS.
As a result of the close association he maintained with kindred organizations abroad, he was appointed British Delegate of the E.V. Fortschrittliche Verkehrstechnik (successor to the VfR), and was a Complementary Member of the Cleveland Rocket Society and an Honorary Member of the American and Pacific Rocket Societies. In post-War years his name was entered in the Ehrenbuch der Astronautik by the Gesselschaft für Weltraumfahrt, and on June 18, 1949 he was admitted to Honorary Fellowship of the BIS. His election as a member of the International Academy of Astronautics followed in 1985.
Information used with kind permission from Dr Bob Parkinson, Editor of the book “Interplanetary – the History of the British Interplanetary Society”, published by the BIS.