July 10, 2015
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The Costs of Superiority

Having come across a frank and candid report from a test pilot about the Joint Strike Fighter Program’s F-35 inability to compete with an older F-16 jet in a “dog fight” had us reflecting on a short story written by Sir Arthur in 1951.

f35_f16_inflight_w

The same parallel was brought up by Tyler Rogoway last year:

The fantastic and haunting short story “Superiority,” written by the science fiction visionary Arthur C. Clarke in 1951, warns us about the opportunity cost of getting into a cycle of developing ever more complex and costly weaponry while sacrificing more numerous and proven systems in the process. It is an essay on numerical advantage, over-optimistic design goals, wanting to believe manufacturer excuses and the internal threat posed relying solely on exceedingly complex systems.

I first read this story in high school back in the late 1990s, and I remember my teacher saying it was mandatory reading at some of the best engineering colleges in the world. I had since forgotten about it until I was reminded of its existence a few years back from an Aviationintel reader. In retrospect I have a feeling that it may have influenced my thought processes more than I like to admit in regards to my writing.

We welcome you to read the story and come to your own conclusions…

Superiority – by Arthur C. Clarke

IN MAKING THIS STATEMENT – which I do of my own free will – I wish first to make it perfectly clear that I am not in any way trying to gain sympathy, nor do I expect any mitigation of whatever sentence the Court may pronounce. I am writing this in an attempt to refute some of the lying reports broadcast over the prison radio and published in the papers I have been allowed to see. These have given an entirely false picture of the true cause of our defeat, and as the leader of my race’s armed forces at the cessation of hostilities I feel it my duty to protest against such libels upon those who served under me. Continue Reading →

July 9, 2015
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New e-Book on Sir Arthur

An e-book version of Neil McAleer’s biography Sir Arthur C. Clarke: Odyssey of a Visionary: A Biography is now available from Rosetta Books

Neil McAleer and Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka 2004 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Karl Anders).

Neil McAleer and Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka 2004 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Karl Anders).

We’d like to share the author’s recollection of how this book originated…

I met Arthur C. Clarke for the first time in Washington, D.C., one summer afternoon in 1988. After several hours of animated conversation, with Q&A’s flying both ways, I said goodbye and drove back to Baltimore with what was the beginning of Clarke’s biography: a typed contact list on legal-sized paper of more than 200 names; a complete audio tape of our meeting; and most importantly, his permission to have a go at his biography.

I think of that audio tape as the first interview for the biography — a two-way interview without a format. We were really interviewing one another about writing his biography. And that July day in 1988 was the day it all began. Continue Reading →

June 17, 2015
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Where Space Meets Popular Culture

Our vice chairman, Dr. Joe Pelton, will be a panelist next week at the International Space University’s Space Studies Program 2015. Specifically, the inaugural Arthur C. Clarke Event at Ohio University in Athens, OH.

The event is open to the public and will be held in the Baker Center Ballroom on Wednesday, 24 June 2015, from 8:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Eastern time, and broadcast live here.

Moderators: Harry Kloor (Jupiter 9 Productions, SSP88)
and Michael Potter (SSP88)

Ohio University is to host the inaugural Where Space Meets Popular Culture in conjunction with the International Space University Space Summer Program at the University.The event, organized by the International Space University (ISU) will focus on the intersection of Hollywood and science, where STEM meets STEAM (Science,Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics). Continue Reading →

June 12, 2015
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Hoverboard

With the requisite “today’s the day Marty McFly went forward in time” popping up throughout 2015, we’re reminded of the hovering skateboard or hoverboard featured in the film Back to the Future Part II.

What a treat it was to see the work being done on the Hendo Hover, which people got to try at Smithsonian’s “The Future is Here 2015″ festival last month. We were only happy to host a luncheon during the event.

We love to watch real science play catch-up to science fiction.

June 9, 2015
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LightSail — Recalling “Sunjammer” Story

LightSail captured this image of its deployed solar sails in Earth orbit on June 8, 2015. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

LightSail captured this image of its deployed solar sails in Earth orbit on June 8, 2015. (Credit: The Planetary Society)

With the LightSail’s successful deployment yesterday, it brings to mind Sir Arthur’s 1964 short story “Sunjammer” (NASA’s Solar Sail Demonstrator was given that name, but was later cancelled). The Planetary Society mission is entitled LightSail-A.

Reprinted below is Sir Arthur’s “Sunjammer,” which appeared in Boy’s Life in 1964.

_______________________

 

The Sunjammer

By Arthur C. Clarke

 

“T minus two minutes,” said the cabin radio. “Please confirm your readiness.”

One by one, the other skippers answered. Merton recognized all the voices—some tense, some calm—for they were the voices of his friends and rivals. On the four inhabited worlds, there were scarcely twenty men who could sail a sun yacht; and they were all here, on the starting line or aboard the escort vessels, orbiting twenty-two thousand miles above the equator.

“Number One, Gossamer—ready to go.”

“Number Two, Santa Maria—all O.K.”

“Number Three, Sunbeam—O.K.”

“Number Four, Woomera—all systems go.”

Merton smiled at that last echo from the early, primitive days of astronautics. But it had become part of the tradition of space; and there were times when a man needed to evoke the shades of those who had gone before him to the stars.

“Number Five, Lebedev—we’re ready.”

“Number Six, Arachne—O.K.”

Now it was his turn, at the end of the line; strange to think that the words he was speaking in this tiny cabin were being heard by at least five billion people.

“Number Seven, Diana—ready to start.”

“One through Seven acknowledged.” The voice from the judge’s launch was impersonal. “Now T minus one minute.”

Merton scarcely heard it; for the last time, he was checking the tension in the rigging. The needles of all the dynamometers were steady; the immense sail was taut, its mirror surface sparkling and glittering gloriously in the sun.

To Merton, floating weightless at the periscope, it seemed to fill the sky. As it well might—for out there were fifty million square feet of sail, linked to his capsule by almost a hundred miles of rigging. All the canvas of all the tea-clippers that had once raced like clouds across the China seas, sewn into one gigantic sheet, could not match the single sail that Diana had spread beneath the sun. Yet it was little more substantial than a soap bubble; that two square miles of aluminized plastic was only a few millionths of an inch thick.

“T minus ten seconds. All recording cameras on.”

Something so huge, yet so frail, was hard for the mind to grasp. And it was harder still to realize that this fragile mirror could tow them free of Earth, merely by the power of the sunlight it would trap.

“. . . five, four, three, two, one, cut!”

Seven knife blades sliced through the seven thin lines tethering the yachts to the mother ships that had assembled and serviced them.

Until this moment, all had been circling Earth together in a rigidly held formation, but now the yachts would begin to disperse, like dandelion seeds drifting before the breeze. And the winner would be the one that first drifted past the moon.

# # #

Aboard Diana, nothing seemed to be happening. But Merton knew better; though his body would feel no thrust, the instrument board told him he was now accelerating at almost one-thousandth of a gravity. For a rocket, that figure would have been ludicrous—but this was the first time any solar yacht had attained it. Diana’s design was sound; the vast sail was living up to his calculations. At this rate, two circuits of Earth would build up his speed to escape velocity—then he would head out for the moon, with the full force of the sun behind him. Continue Reading →