On this date in 1917, science fiction writer and inventor Arthur C. Clarke was born in Minehead, Somerset, England. A stargazer as a boy, he could not afford to attend university. He became a radar specialist for the Royal Air Force during World War II. Clarke earned a first-class degree in math and physics in 1948 at King's College, London. He was the first to propose, in a technical paper in 1945, that geostationary satellites could make telecommunication relays, which later won him the 1982 Marconi International Fellowship and many other honors. After selling science fiction throughout the 1940s, Clarke was writing fulltime by 1951. In 1954, Clarke suggested satellite applications for weather forecasting to the U.S. Weather Bureau. He turned from the stars to underwater exploration, concentrating on the coast of Sri Lanka, where he has lived since 1956.
His most famous work was the screenplay for the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Clarke has served as chair of the British Interplanetary Society. His TV programs included "Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World" (1981) and "Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers" (1984). He co-broadcast Apollo 11, 12 and 15 missions with Walter Cronkite and CBS News. He had been wheelchair-bound since 1988 with post-polio syndrome. A lifelong nonbeliever, he refused to accept the "Church of England" affiliation put on his dogtag by the RAF, and insisted they change it to "pantheist." He told London Times reporter Mark Nuttal (Aug. 4, 1992): "I remain an aggressive agnostic." He had mused that Lucretius "hit it on the nail when he said that religion was the by-product of fear--a reaction to a mysterious and often hostile universe. For much of human prehistory, it may have been a necessary evil--but why was it so much more evil than necessary--and why did it survive when it was no longer necessary?" (Cited in Who's Who in Hell by Warren Allen Smith). In 2000, Clarke was knighted. Before his death at age 90, Clarke made written instructions that his funeral be entirely secular: "Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral." D. 2008.