The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has paid tribute to science fiction writer, Sir Arthur C Clarke, who died last week (19 March), as the man who popularised the concept of using the geostationary orbit for communications.
In October 1945, Clarke published in the UK magazine Wireless World a technical paper entitled "Extra-terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give World-wide Radio Coverage?" The paper established the feasibility of artificial satellites as relay stations for Earth-based communications.
Clarke predicted that one day communications around the world would be possible via a network of three geostationary satellites spaced at equal intervals around the Earth's equator.
Nearly two decades later, in 1964, Syncom 3 became the first geostationary satellite to finally fulfil Clarke’s prediction. Later that year, Syncom 3 was used to relay television coverage of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo to the US — the first television transmission over the Pacific Ocean. Now, there are hundreds of satellites in orbit and providing communications to millions of people around the globe.
In 1954, Clarke had also proposed using satellites in meteorology. Today, we cannot imagine predicting the weather without using dedicated meteorological satellites.
Looking back on these developments, in his book How the World Was One — Beyond the Global Village, published in 1992, Clarke wrote: "Sometimes I’m afraid that you people down on Earth take the space stations for granted, forgetting the skill and science and courage that went to make them. How, often do you stop to think that all your long-distance phone calls, and most of your TV programmes are routed through one or the other of the satellites? And how often do you give any credit to the meteorologists for the fact that weather forecasts are no longer the joke they were to our grandfathers, but are dead accurate ninety-nine percent of the time?"
Clarke wrote more than 80 books involving science, and science fiction. His short story "The Sentinel" served as the basis for Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey". His other famous works include The Exploration of Space, The Promise of Space, The Fountains of Paradise, his semi-autobiographical novel Glide Path, and Childhood's End. Before his death, Clarke had just reviewed the manuscript of his latest novel, The Last Theorem.
A Book of Condolence for Sir Arthur C Clarke will be open for signature at the ITU headquarters 26 March to 4 April 2008.