In a film made on Sir Arthur’s 90th birthday, he said he had “no regrets and no more personal ambitions… I’ve had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer, space promoter and science populariser. Of all these, I want to be remembered most as a writer – one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, stretched their imagination as well.”
“Seer of 2001, prophet of the space satellite, early star and later Chairman of the British Interplanetary Society, Arthur C. Clarke [occupies] a position in the factual world of science which comes near to rivalling his importance as a giant of science fiction.” – Brian Ash, Who’s Who in Science Fiction (Elm Tree, 1976)
Born in Minehead, Somerset, England, Arthur Charles Clarke was educated at Huish’s Grammar School, Taunton, and King’s College, London. He worked in the British Exchequer and Audit Department and served as a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force before turning a full time author in 1950.
In a landmark scientific paper titled “Extra-terrestrial Relays” published in 1945, Sir Arthur was the first to set out the principles of satellite communication with satellites placed in geostationary orbits. He never patented the idea, and received no financial benefit from his invention. He was content being acknowledged as the “Godfather of the communication satellite”, and having the geostationary orbit designated as “Clarke Orbit”. In 1969, Sir Arthur’s respected position in the scientific community earned him a place alongside Walter Cronkite in narrating the lunar landing of Apollo 11, a role he would later repeat for Apollo 12 and 15.
Sir Arthur’s interest in diving and underwater exploration led him to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he settled down in 1956. He pioneered diving and underwater tourism in Sri Lanka through his company Underwater Safaris, and played an active role as a public intellectual and as a patron of art, science and higher education. He served as Chancellor of Sri Lanka’s technological University of Moratuwa from 1979 to 2002. Although he became the island nation’s first Resident Guest in 1975, Sir Arthur always remained a British citizen. The Sri Lankan government presented him the Lankabhimanya (‘Pride of Lanka’), the country’s highest civilian honour, in 2005.
Sir Arthur’s literary achievements were recognised by Queen Elizabeth II when she honoured him with a Knighthood in 1998. He had earlier received the British Royal honour of CBE in 1989. As will as receiving several honorary doctorates from universities around the world, Sir Arthur won all the major science fiction literary awards over the course of his long and storied career.
In 1996, the International Astronomical Union named asteroid No 4923 in his honour, while scientists at the University of Monash, Australia, named a newly discovered dinosaur species as Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei in 2003.