Posted by Deliverator on March 19th, 2008
Arthur C Clarke took his final trip up that great space elevator in the sky today. He was the last living of “The Big Three” science fiction authors (the others being Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov). It is hard to overstate the impact of Clarke’s works not just in the science fiction community, but on science and engineering in the 20th century. Clarke is widely credited with scientifically developing the concept of geostationary communications satellites, having first set the idea to paper in 1945, some 20 years before the first launch of such a satellite. These days, there are literally hundreds of functional satellites in geostationary orbit. Geostationary orbit is officially named Clarke Orbit in his honor. His concept of a space elevator may take longer to realize, but serious materials engineers believe the essential building blocks of such a system (likely carbon nanotubes) will be used for a wide variety of large and EXTREMELY small scale applications in my lifetime. The large scale exploration and exploitation of the solar system will almost certainly require the construction of such a device. Right now, to most people’s understanding a space elevator is a whimsical, almost magical idea, but as Clarke has oft been quoted, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Like the geostationary satellite before it, the fundamental idea of the space elevator is sound and if we could only regain the political vision to look to the stars instead of to oil, mankind might survive its adolescence. It saddens me to think that such an optimistic and foreward thinking man as Clarke died in such dismal times. Now that Sir Clarke has passed, the naming of things will begin in earnest. He’s already had a few spacecraft and an asteroid named in his honor, but I have little doubt that his crowning monument of his life will one day be The Clarke Space Elevator.
Update: Let the naming begin.