Arthur Charles Clarke

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Early Years

Arthur C. Clarke was born in Minehead Somerset on Dec 16 1917. He grew up in Bishops Lydeard on the family farm named "Ballifants". He attended Huish grammar school in Taunton where he began his writing career making contributions to the school magazine. In the summer of 1934 he applied for membership in the British Interplanetary Society. In 1936 he moved to London and became Treasurer for the BIS while working for H.M. Exchequer and Audit Department where he remained until joining the Royal Air Force in March 1941.

In 1937 Clarke attended the first science fiction convention to ever be staged anywhere in the world, at the Theosophical Hall in Leeds Yorkshire. At this meeting on January 3rd 1937 he joined the newly formed Science Fiction Association and became acquainted with its instigator Douglas W. F. Mayer. In late 1937 and early 1938 Mayer would publish three issues of a magazine called "Amateur Science Stories", the last two issues included fiction by Clarke, which was the first time his fiction had appeared in print to a paying audience. Between January 1937 and August 1939 Clarke would write a multitude of stories and space-related non-fiction for Novae Terrae, the Bulletin of the BIS, the Astronaut, British Scientifiction Fantasy Review, The Fantast, The Futurian, Tomorrow, Zenith, Urania, Satellite, Spacewards, Tales of Wonder, New Worlds, and JBIS.

BIS Technical Committee

In the summer of 1937 Clarke was enlisted as the official astronomer for the BIS Technical Committee and would participate for the next two years on the design and construction of four devices that would be useful in a future spacecraft. A Coelostat, an altimeter, a speedometer and a better battery. More importantly he would contribute significantly to the design of the BIS Lunar Spacecraft which the group would unveil to the British public in January 1939. This spacecraft would contain many fundamental ideas that would be applied in spacecraft design over the next 30 years.

For most of 1938 and 1939 Clarke single-handedly edited the Bulletin of the BIS from his apartment in Grays Inn Road London. In the Spring of 1938 he wrote a letter to the editor of Astounding Magazine in the USA, John W. Campbell, explaining the theory of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's famed spaceflight equation. Campbell would publish the letter in the first issue he edited. Clarke also co-edited Novae Terrae with his flat-mate Maurice K. Hanson until it stopped publication because of the war.

War Years

Just after the war began Clarke was invited to speak to the Archimedeans at Cambridge University where he delivered a lecture on space travel.

Clarke attended the last meeting of the BIS on January 16th 1940 before his department was shipped off to Colwyn Bay in North Wales to escape the bombing. In late 1940 Clarke chose to enlist in the RAF. He was rejected and so attempted to join the Army. On February 21st 1941 he volunteered again for the RAF and on March 18th he reported for duty at RAF Chester, recommended by the recruitment office as a "radio mechanic". He soon found himself in basic training in Shropshire. By May 16th he was reposted to London. He spent much of the war at an RAF camp near Yatesbury where he would often provide impromptu lectures on space travel to his fellow recruits. During this time he became known as "Rockets."

In November 1942 a letter from Clarke appeared in the journal "Wireless World" in which he explained how interplanetary communication might be possible without requiring impossible levels of broadcasting power. This was his first reference to radio transmissions across space.

In 1943 he worked at Davidstow Moor on Ground Controlled Approach systems which was a closely guarded cover name for early radar devices. In this capacity he worked under Professor Luis Alvarez Radiation Laboratory team in south west England.

In the summer of 1944 Clarke travelled to Warwick Castle to meet with Eric Burgess of the MIS. In December Clarke and Burgess then visited P.E. Cleator at his home in Wallasey in Cheshire to discuss the rebirth of the British Interplanetary Society after the war.

In late January 1945 Clarke wrote a plea in Spacewards magazine to keep the BIS name. In February 1945 he wrote another letter to Wireless World, this time unequivocally explaining the possibilities of satellite communications. He then set to work in Stratford on Avon to write his seminal non-fiction work later entitled "Extra-Terrestrial Relays" which would lay the ground work for global satellite communications. It appears that he mailed it for publication on May 25th 1945.

Post War

One June 27th 1945 Clarke joined the British Astronomical Association and began to contribute significant amounts of technical papers to the BAA journal. At the end of the year his plans for a united British national astronautics organisation came to fruition with the incorporation of the newly revived BIS.

On October 5th 1946 Clarke delivered what would be one of his most important papers to the membership of the BIS. Entitled "The Challenge of the Spaceship" it would encompass more than a decade of his thoughts on space flight. The Challenge of the Spaceship would establish Clarke in the front row of astronautics experts and would lead to a multitude of speaking engagements on radio and even early television. In the summer of 1950 Clarke would become a published author when his first book Interplanetary Flight was published in England by Temple Press. This book would be the first in a long line of fiction and non-fiction works which would continue until his death 58 years later.


Arthur C. Clarke - A Life Remembered by Fred Clarke, with contributions from David Baker, Stephen Baxter, Gregory Benford, Ben Bova, Arthur C. Clarke, Keir Dullea, Robert Godwin, Nalaka Gunarwadene, David A. Hardy, Mat Irvine, Michael Lennick,Kelvin Long, Paul McAuley, Michael Moorcock, Sir Patrick Moore, Frederick I. Ordway III, Robert J. Sawyer, Helen Sharman, Mark Stewart, and William F. Temple.