Wednesday 19 March 2008

Dare to think and change the world - Arthur C. Clarke tribute

Finding our way

As I left home this afternoon en-route my manager’s home where we had a meeting before going to the airport, the taxi driver was clueless about the address I gave him.

At first he looked in a map not to find the street but to check the spelling of the street since Dutch names with double vowels never come out the right way with foreigners like me.

One he got the correct spelling, he keyed the information into the in-built GPS system in his car and the journey began.

I then opined that the man who took the thinking to a useful conclusion about satellites only died a day before.

Germination of an idea

The idea of geosynchronous satellites was first discussed by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and then Herman Potočnik in 1928 wrote about them being used in communications with ground relays, he died a year after at the young age of 36, one only wonders if this “Einstein” died too soon.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke mooted in a paper “Extra-Terrestrial Relays – Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?” he wrote in 1945 that these satellites would be ideal for mass broadcasting or as telecommunications relays but did not believe it would happen in his lifetime – how wrong he was.

Dr. Harold Rosen took these science fiction ideas and with his team in 1959 began work to create reality that on the 26th of July 1963, the first geosynchronous satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral into the earth’s geostationary orbit at 35,786 km (22,236 miles) directly above the equator.

Later in 1963 the very first satellite relayed telephone phone call in the world happened between US President John F. Kennedy and the Nigerian Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

Global village of unrewarded minds

This was the beginning of the development of the global village that linked the world by telecommunications and also that of travel through the development of the turbo-jet engine by Sir Frank Whittle.

Unfortunately, these names are not as familiar as they should be, their ideas changed the world and what a debt of gratitude we owe the men even though they are not as celebrated as one would expect they should be.

The earth’s geostationary orbit is named for Arthur C. Clarke as the Clarke Orbit or Clarke Belt, he was no doubt deserving of a Nobel Prize not as a matter of his actualisation but for his instigative thinking and the consequences of the same.

I commend these men as the men who thought and did the improbable, the impossible and the unthinkable, they had the courage to publish their wild ideas and others took these wild ideas and made a new reality - the rest is history - we eventually found where my manager lived.

Adieu! Sir Arthur Clarke.

Note: GPS does not use geostationary orbits but these satellites as many other orbital belt variations derived from the original and pioneering ideas I talked about in the blog.

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