Thursday, October 04, 2007

Arthur C. Clarke on the Anniversary of Sputnik

A fascinating interview. Read the whole thing for insights into why it can be argued that we landed on the moon 50 years too early. Some other great items:

SPECTRUM: You, Frederick Durant, and Ernst Stuhlinger were all in Barcelona at an International Astronautical Federation meeting on 4 October 1957. What was your reaction when you got the news about Sputnik?

CLARKE: Although I had been writing and speaking about space travel for years, I still have vivid memories of exactly when I heard the news. I was in Barcelona for the 8th International Astronautical Congress. We had already retired to our hotel rooms after a busy day of presentations by the time the news broke. I was awakened by reporters seeking an authoritative comment on the Soviet achievement. Our theories and speculations had suddenly become reality!

I was a toddler when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, so Sputnik is decidedly before my time. I find it fascinating that Clarke at least, views Sputnik as a 'where were you when Kennedy was shot' moment. I recall vividly where I was when Reagan was shot, when the Challenger exploded, when Mark McGuire hit number 62, and when the 9/11 attacks occurred. Does it say more about Sputnik or Clarke that he recalls the circumstances so clearly?

[CLARKE]: The growth of space tourism will see not just quick orbital hops, but facilities for accommodation and recreation. In October 2006, the Arthur Clarke Foundation selected the American budget-hotelier Bob Bigelow for the Arthur C. Clarke Innovator Award for 2006—in recognition of his work in the development of space habitats. With the successful Russian launch of Bigelow Aerospace’s Genesis 1, Bob is leading the way for private sector individuals willing to advance space exploration with minimum reliance on government programmes. Bob firmly believes in bringing space closer to people’s lives, and Genesis 1 represents the first step in expandable habitats suited for industrial, commercial and recreational purposes.

SPECTRUM: You have lived to see one of your key ideas—geosynchronous satellites—come to fruition. Another idea of yours—the Space Elevator—is coming closer to reality. Do you have any further thoughts on the Space Elevator?


...What makes the Space Elevator such an attractive idea is its cost-effectiveness. A ticket to orbit now costs tens of millions of dollars (as the millionaire space tourists have paid). But the actual energy required, if you purchased it from your friendly local utility, would only add about hundred dollars to your electricity bill. And a round-trip would cost only about one tenth of that, as most of the energy could be recovered on the way back!

Once it is built, the Space Elevator could be used to lift payloads, passengers, pre-fabricated components of spacecraft, as well as rocket fuel up to Earth orbit. In this way, more than 90 per cent of the energy needed for the exploration of the Solar System could be provided by Earth-based energy sources. When the Space Elevator becomes a reality in the coming decades, the most expensive components of orbital travel will be in-flight movies and catering.

I believe him.

I consider myself blessed that I will (God willing) live to see much more of this accomplished than will Clarke. But there's no doubt that he will have dreamed and imagined far more than my eyes will behold.

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