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Sir Arthur C. Clarke Dies


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I'm sure we would not have had men on the Moon if it had not been for Wells and Verne and the people who write about this and made people think about it. I'm rather proud of the fact that I know several astronauts who became astronauts through reading my books.


Futurist, scientist and author Arthur C. Clarke, who co-wrote the epic film "2001: A Space Odyssey" and raised the idea of communications satellites in the 1940s, died Wednesday at age 90, an associate confirmed. Clarke died early Wednesday at a hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had lived since the 1950s, said Scott Chase, the secretary of the nonprofit Arthur C. Clarke Foundation. "He had been taken to hospital in what we had hoped was one of the slings and arrows of being 90, but in this case it was his final visit," Chase said. Clarke, who had suffered since the 1960s from debilitating post-polio syndrome and sometimes used a wheelchair, died after suffering breathing problems, said the aide, Rohan De Silva.


Concept of the geostationary communications satellite


Clarke's most important contribution may be in propagating idea that geostationary satellites would be ideal telecommunications relays. He described this concept in a paper titled "Extra-Terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?", published in Wireless World in October 1945. The geostationary orbit is now sometimes known as the Clarke Orbit or the Clarke Belt in his honor.


At the time, the concept of communication satellites was considered by many prominent scientists to be an impossible vision, but in October 1957 the Russians orbited Sputnik, and the United States followed in January 1958 with Explorer 1. The first commercial communications satellite, Early Bird, was launched in 1965 into precisely the orbit that Clarke had described two decades earlier, and today, hundreds of satellites provide various services around the globe.


In the 1940s, Clarke was one of the pioneers of ground approach radar, which today is a fundamental element of air traffic safety, and in the 1950s, he worked with Jacques Cousteau and others to help perfect scuba equipment. Clarke also had written about topics such as geothermal, solar and wind energy; the search for extra-terrestrial life; the development of the space elevator concept; and dozens of other innovative ideas.


2001: A Space Odyssey


Clarke's first venture into film was the Stanley Kubrick-directed 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick and Clarke had met in 1964 to discuss the possibility of a collaborative film project. As the idea developed, it was decided that the story for the film was to be loosely based on Clarke's short story The Sentinel, written in 1948 as an entry in a BBC short story competition. Originally, Clarke was going to write the screenplay for the film, but this proved to be more tedious than he had estimated. Instead, Kubrick and Clarke decided it would be best to write a novel first and then adapt it for the film upon its completion. However, as Clarke was finishing the book, the screenplay was also being written simultaneously.


Clarke's influence on the directing of 2001: A Space Odyssey is also felt in one of the most memorable scenes in the movie when astronaut Bowman shuts down HAL by removing modules from service one by one. As this happens, we witness HAL's consciousness degrading. By the time HAL's logic is completely gone, he begins singing the song Daisy Bell. This song was chosen due to a coincidence when in 1962 Clarke visited his friend and colleague John Pierce at the Bell Labs Murray Hill facility. A remarkable speech synthesis demonstration by physicist John Larry Kelly, Jr was taking place at the time. Kelly was using an IBM 704 computer to synthesise speech. His voice recorder synthesiser vocoder reproduced the vocal for Daisy Bell, with musical accompaniment from Max Mathews, creating one of the most famous moments in the history of Bell Labs. Arthur C. Clarke was so impressed that he later told Kubrick to use it in this climactic scene.


Due to the hectic schedule of the film's production, Kubrick and Clarke had difficulty collaborating on the book. Clarke completed a draft of the novel at the end of 1964 with the plan to publish in 1965 in advance of the film's release in 1966. After many delays the film was released in the spring of 1968, before the book was completed. The book was credited to Clarke alone. Clarke later complained that this had the effect of making the book into a novelisation, that Kubrick had manipulated circumstances to downplay his authorship. For these and other reasons, the details of the story differ slightly from the book to the movie. The film is a bold artistic piece with little explanation for the events taking place. Clarke, on the other hand, wrote thorough explanations of "cause and effect" for the events in the novel. Despite their differences, both film and novel were well received.

In 1972, Clarke published The Lost Worlds of 2001, which included his account of the production and alternate versions of key scenes. The "special edition" of the novel A Space Odyssey (released in 1999) contains an introduction by Clarke, documenting his account of the events leading to the release of the novel and film.


2010: Odyssey Two


In 1982 Clarke continued the 2001 epic with a sequel, 2010: Odyssey Two. This novel was also made into a film, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, directed by Peter Hyams for release in 1984. Due to the political environment in America in the 1980s, the novel and film present a Cold War theme, with the looming tensions of nuclear war. The film was not considered to be as revolutionary or artistic as 2001, but the reviews were still positive.


Clarke's email correspondence with Hyams was published in 1984. Titled The Odyssey File: The Making of 2010, and co-authored with Hyams, it illustrates his fascination with the then-pioneering medium and its use for them to communicate on an almost daily basis at the time of planning and production of the film while living on different continents. The book also includes Clarke's list of the best science-fiction films ever made.

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