COMMUNICATIONS PIONEERS: Arthur C. Clarke

Sadly, the name of Arthur C. Clarke has faded into history and most people today have no idea who he is. Audiences of the 1960s knew him as the force behind 2001: A Space Odyssey but here in 2014, six years after his death, he’s a fairly obscure figure. Yet, he remains one of the most influential figures in the history of communications… not for his fiction but for a letter he wrote in 1945, published in Wireless World. It said, in part,

An “artificial satellite” at the correct distance from the earth would make one revolution every 24 hours; i.e., it would remain stationary above the same spot and would be within optical range of nearly half the earth’s surface. Three repeater stations, 120 degrees apart in the correct orbit, could give television and microwave coverage to the entire planet. I’m afraid this isn’t going to be of the slightest use to our post-war planners, but I think it is the ultimate solution to the problem.

(You can see the whole letter in scanned and text format here.)

Dr. Clarke, a writer, scientist and eventual Knight Bachelor of the British Empire, was the first person to propose what we know now as geostationary orbit. He later expanded on the idea in the same magazine; read the whole article and see if it makes sense to you.

Of course, it all remained theoretical until the first communications satellites were launched in the 1960s, but it’s such a common idea today that it’s hard to believe that Dr. Clarke was often dismissed as “just a science fiction writer.”