Arthur C. Clarke, Visionary Author of the Space Age, Dies at 90

Author of '2001' and other books was first to imagine communications satellites.

March 18, 2008— -- Arthur C. Clarke, the prolific author whose 70 books anticipated many of the greatest achievements of the early space age, has died on his adopted island home of Sri Lanka. He was 90.

The cause of his death, according to an assistant, was complications from failing lungs. He had been largely confined to a wheelchair for many years by post-polio syndrome, but he never stopped looking toward the stars.

In 1964, when he was already a prolific science fiction writer, he was approached by the filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to write a book and screenplay called "Journey Beyond the Stars."

The project took four years, and over time the title changed. The final product, "2001: A Space Odyssey," was frequently cited as one of the great films of the 20th century.

The story tells of the first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence — a common theme in science fiction, but one that rarely captured the public imagination the way it did in the hands of Kubrick and Clarke.

Clarke wrote several sequels: "2010," "2061," and "3001." But it was the original that endured. The astronauts of Apollo 13 named their command module "Odyssey," inspired by Clarke and Kubrick.

Arthur Charles Clarke, a farmer's son, was born in Minehead, Somerset, England, on Dec. 16, 1917. During World War II he served in the Royal Air Force, working on the new technology of radar.

After the war ended he joined the British Interplanetary Society — and circulated an idea that has changed life in the modern world.

He suggested that a satellite, orbiting Earth over the equator at an altitude of 24,300 miles, would take precisely 24 hours to complete one orbit — and since it would therefore appear to hover motionless over the planet below, it would be perfect for relaying radio and television signals.

The idea for such geostationary communications satellites might well have happened without Clarke, but many technologists give him credit for the idea, which he published in the magazine Wireless World in October 1945 — years before the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1.

If you have watched television today, you have probably seen video transmitted via a satellite in a so-called Clarke Orbit.

In 1948 Clarke wrote a short story called "The Sentinel," in which he described astronauts on a routine survey of the Moon in the distant future — 1996 — coming across a mysterious tetrahedron, obviously left by an advanced civilization. The story was widely popular among science fiction readers, and was the starting point for "2001."

Among his other successful books are "Childhood's End" and "Rendezvous with Rama," which is currently being made into a film for release in 2009.

He was a commentator for CBS News during the Apollo 11 Moon flight, and in the 1980s hosted several television series, including "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World."

He was married in 1953 to Marilyn Mayfield; they divorced in 1964. He was knighted in 1998.

In the foreword to "2001," he wrote an apology to his readers:

"Please remember: this is only a work of fiction.

"The truth, as always, will be far stranger."

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