I am of the age where the Apollo project, and humanity’s expedition to the moon, holds a great and lasting fascination that has not diminished and forms a strong basis for my core being. My view of technology, humanity, the planet and the universe are all strongly influenced by those live TV transmissions in 1969, in the hushed and darkened classroom of my youth. I still read much of what the few remaining astronauts of the Apollo missions have to say of their experiences and it has affected their view of humanity and themselves deeply.
There are many men like me; interested in science at that exploratory boyish age in the 60’s, where fascination became reality and we watched enthralled as men walked on the moon. Everyone was talking about what was out there, in space, and what a quantum leap it was for humanity to walk on another heavenly body.
The previous year, 1968 saw the release of a film which changed our view of the universe, technology and humanity in a massive way as well. I’m speaking of 2001:A Space Odyssey, Directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by both Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke. Long before CGI in films, and in an genre which had wilder and cheaper sets and bug-eyed aliens wrestling with heroes to dramatic music, 2001 showed me what space could really be.
Clarke defined a great deal of what the world is today. From describing what was required from satellites in order to be used for modern and earth-spanning telecommunications to being prescient in what he would be seeing in his lifetime and in our hands (the internet, mobile phones, high-speed data, nuclear-powered spacecraft, PDAs, ubiquitous computing, video-conferencing) at a time when William Shatner was the “real” spaceman and aliens were shorthand for communists.
Clarke wrote some amazing books, visually stunning and incredibly descriptive and above all written within the bounds of known scientific precepts. If he had the temerity to imagine into the future or onto other planets, he at least based it on known facts and provable suppositions. He rarely made something up that did not feel completely real and intelligent and made all of it utterly compelling.
In his 90th birthday recollections Clarke says some compelling and prescient things, about technology and its’ responsibility to improve not exploit the planet, but my favourite is his sign-off, in which he humbly quotes Kipling:
“If I have given you delight with all that I have done, let me lie quiet in that night which shall be yours anon. And for the little, little span the dead are borne in mind, seek not to question other than the books I leave behind.”
Thank you, Arthur; I have been delighted.