Sir Arthur C Clarke

Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Sir Arthur C. Clarke

(1917 – 2008)

Arthur Charles Clarke was born on 16th December 1917 at Minehead in Somerset, and grew up in nearby Bishops Lydeard. A teenage interest in astronomy and spaceflight led him to join the BIS in 1934. Two years later he moved to London to take up a Civil Service job, and there he met other enthusiast members of the pre-war BIS, including Val Cleaver with whom he formed a lasting friendship. During the War he served in the RAF, helping (among other things) in the development of Ground Control Approach (GCA) radar. A fictionalized account of those times appears in his novel Glide Path.

In 1945 he published a seminal paper on the use of geostationary orbit for communications satellites. In 1946 he started a two-year degree course in physics and mathematics at Kings College, London. During this period he was also very active within the BIS, delivering several key papers and even recruiting the playwright George Bernard Shaw to its membership.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke with Shuttle Model

Sir Arthur C. Clarke with Shuttle Model and stills from the film 2001 - A Space Odyssey

Following graduation, he took a job as Assistant Editor at Physics Abstracts while developing his writing career. His book Interplanetary Flight, published in 1950, was the first book in English to present the basic theory of spaceflight in any technical detail, and it also enabled him to leave his job with Physics Abstracts and become a full time writer. Clarke served as Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society from 1946 – 1947, and again from 1951 – 1953.

One literary figure that he did not recruit to the BIS was C.S. Lewis. Following publication of the latter’s “Out of the Silent Planet”, in which Lewis derided “interplanetary societies” as wishing to propagate evil throughout the Universe, Clarke maintained an active correspondence with Lewis throughout the late 1940s. After Clarke’s own “Childhood’s End” had been published – which Lewis thought very good – a meeting took place in Oxford between Lewis and Clarke, together with J.R.R. Tolkien and Val Cleaver, in 1954.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Dr Wernher Von Braun

Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Honorary Fellow of the BIS, Dr Wernher Von Braun

In 1954, on his way by ship to Australia to take part in an underwater diving expedition, Clarke had a half day visit to Colombo in what was then Ceylon. In 1956 he returned and made Sri Lanka his permanent home for the rest of his life.

Then, in 1964 he was contacted by film director Stanley Kubrick, and together they made the ground-breaking film “2001: a Space Odyssey.” He continued to be a major advocate for Space activities, and is possibly the most read science fiction writer in the world.

He was awarded a CBE in 1989 “for service to British cultural interests in Sri Lanka” and in 1998, he was awarded a Knighthood “for services to literature.”

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