He revolutionised global communications and inspired one of the great movies of the last century. Now ARTHUR C. CLARKE is being tele-transported into the Edinburgh International Science Festival.
Words: Robert Lambourne
20 THE LIST 29 Mar—12 Apr 2001
‘ ny sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.‘ So said Sir \rthur C. Clarke. science populariser. visionary and. arguably. the world‘s most famous sci- fi author. Sir Arthur. who has been a resident of Sri Lanka since the mid-1950s. is one of the star attractions of this year's Edinburgh International Science Festival. The 83—year-old author and broadcaster will be making his contribution to the Science Festival via a specially recorded video and a live audio link; a fitting arrangement for one who has played an important part in the history of satellite- based global telecommunications.
200] is a special year for Sir Arthur. It was as co- author of the screenplay for the film 200]: A Space ()dyssev. that he achieved his widest international acclaim. The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. and the book of the film. together with its three sequels. are among his best selling works.
invisible rainbow in the southern sky. It‘s easy to work out where it is: every satellite TV antenna you see is directed towards some point on the Clarke orbit. picking up signals from one or other of the satellites that dwell there.
As a science fiction author. Arthur C. Clarke is renowned for his technical accuracy. his ‘can do‘ scientific optimism. and for his ability to ignite the sense of wonder in his readers. All these were evident in his award-winning novel Rendezvous ll'iI/i Runni. which describes the exploration of a huge alien artefact that happens to pass close to the liarth.
In the late woos- and early l97()s he co-presented the TV coverage of the Apollo I I. l2 and 15 missions for CBS television. In the ths and early 90s he travelled the world speaking on the subject of the space elevator (a system for hoisting packages into orbit by means of an ultra—high-tech cable). and the need for an international spaceguard to give the
Every satellite TV antenna you see is directed towards some point on the Clarke orbit.
His life-long affair with the future began at the age of thirteen when. as a schoolboy in the Somerset town of Taunton. he acquired a copy of the American science fiction magazine Astounding Stories. There was no looking back. War service in the RAF gave him the opportunity to work on radar systems and introduced him to a number of scientists. Having been plucked from his pre-war job as a civil servant. he seized a post-war opportunity to go to university. studying physics and mathematics at King's College in London. By the time he graduated he was already the author of a few science fiction stories as well as a number of technical articles.
In one of those articles. published in a 1945 edition of ll'iri'lcss‘ ll'm'ld. he proposed a global communications system. based on the use of three relay satellites. These. he realised. would be able to maintain fixed positions in the sky provided they were placed in a very particular 24-hour orbit. high above the Earth’s equator. That special orbit is now known as the Clarke orbit and it is of such importance to the communications industry that its use is subject to tight international regulation. Seen from Scotland. the Clarke orbit hangs like an
people of Earth due warning of any impending meteor impact.
In his essay collection Profiles ()f The Future. he readily admitted the impossibility of predicting the future but set himself the goal of defining the scientific boundaries within which any possible future must lie. His talent for lucid explanation. and his ability to see the potential implications of new scientific ideas. ensures that his contribution to the 2001 Science Festival will be a fascinating one. The audience members who speak to him over the live link to Sri Lanka are unlikely to forget their encounter with the man who has done so much to build bridges between the public and the scientific community. and to represent the true spirit of 200].
Arthur C. Clarke: Live Link to Sri Lanka is at 1pm on Sat 14 Apr in George Square Theatre, Edinburgh. The Edinburgh International Science Festival runs Fri 6-Tue 17 Apr. See Edinburgh Life, page 90.
2001: A Space Odyssey opens at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 27 Apr.