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Farewell to Arthur C. Clarke

All space geeks and science fiction fans were saddened this week by the death of Arthur C. Clarke. The famed writer and visionary was probably best known as the author, with Stanley Kubrick, of the 2001: A Space Odyssey yarn, and for being the first - more than a decade before the first Earth satellite was launched - to sketch out the notion of launching satellites into geo-synchronous orbits as communications relay stations. He conceived the global telecommunications industry we take for granted today.

My one brush with Clarke's genius and fame was back in 1982, I think, on the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first such communications satellite, called Telstar. I was asked by my editors at The Evening Sun to write a piece on the milestone.

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It was quickly apparent to me that I could not write the article without talking to Clarke. To my dismay, I learned that he had long-since moved to Sri Lanka. My first task was to figure out how to reach him. Then I would have to calculate what time of day I could call him, given the vast time-zone differences. Then I needed to come up with some questions that would yield answers useful to the story, without simultaneously embarrassing myself.

I was awed by the guy, and very nervous.

Somehow, I managed to get a phone number, and arranged a time to call. I was told I would not have much time with Clarke, who was very busy and much in demand. All I remember of the conversation that ensued was that he was very impatient with me, and not at all impressed with the sophistication of my questions. The whole thing was made worse by annoying transmission delays - the long signal travel-times inherent in satellite-based telephone communications, the very technology innovation we were celebrating.

It ended up being a very short, and not very enlightening interview. But, I had real, exclusive quotes from The Man for my story - like truffles for an omelet. And as badly as it had gone, I knew I would never forget that I once spoke to Arthur C. Clarke, via geosynchronous satellite communications. Thanks to him for his intellectual and literary legacy, and farewell.

Here's a little video snippet of Clarke I stumbed across this morning - amusing for his obvious admiration of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

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