Date: December 16, 2009

Title: A Tribute to Sir Arthur C. Clarke


Podcaster: Sri Lanka Astronomical Association

Organization: Sri Lanka Astronomical Association

Description: Thilina Heenatigala talks with Prof Kavan Rantatunga about late Sir Arthur C Clarke. This podcast is a tribute to ACC to commemorate his 92nd birthday which is on the 16th of December 2009.

Bio: hilina Heenatigala is the General Secretary of Sri Lanka Astronomical Association. He is an amateur astronomer and astronomy educator. Prof Kavan Ratnatunga is the President of Sri Lanka Astronomical Association; he is one of the few professional astronomers from Sri Lanka.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by Clockwork Active Media Systems.


Hello my name is Thilina Heenatigala, General Secretary of Sri Lanka Astronomical Association. This podcast is a tribute to late Sir Arthur C Clarke for his 92nd birthday which is on the 16th of December 2009.
Sir Arthur is more known for his suggested application of Geostationary satellite for communication and his 1968 movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. With this podcast we will talk about less known incidents as we know of.
Here with me I have Prof. Kavan Ratnatunga – President of Sri Lanka Astronomical Association and also happen to be a personal friend of Sir Arthur C Clarke.

Sir Arthur Clarke was residing in Sri Lanka for a long period. What actually motivated him to settle in Sri Lanka for the first time?

Clarke first arrived in Lanka in 1954 on his way to diving expedition on Australia’s
Great Barrier Reef. He was so fascinated with the island that he decides to return in 1956 and made Lanka his home. He writes how he felt he had come home when he visited unawatuna which is in the South Coast of Lanka. I would like to quote from his book The view from Serendip…
“The drab, chill northern beach on which I had so often shivered through an English summer was merely the pale reflection of an ultimate and long-unsuspected beauty. Like the three princes of Serendip, I had found far more than I was seeking-in Serendip itself.
Ten thousand kilometers from place I was born, I had come home.”

We know that Sir Arthur was fond of diving, is there a link between his interest in Space Exploration and Diving?

Clarke who is primarily known for his Science fiction was an active participant of the British Interplanetary Society. He got interested in Diving because it gave him the feeling of weightlessness, which we observe in the space. This was the same reason why NASA Astronauts adopted large swimming pools to train for the space missions.
In 1961 he discovered treasure of the Great Basses Reef off Southern coast of Sri Lanka. Among many interesting items from this Ship which sank in 1702 it had a many thousands of Indian Silver rupees which have become collectible items associated with this discovery.

Sir Arthur influenced well towards to popularization of Astronomy and Space Science in Sri Lanka. How did it start actually?

In 1959 Arthur Clarke founded the Ceylon Astronomical Society which is celebrating it’s
50th year this year that Internationa Year of Astronomy. He used to travel to NASA Launches in the 1960s and where he was an anchor with Walter Cronkite. Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was known at that time did not have TV and we depended on him to bring back films which were screened at our meeting and motivated some of us who were then in high school to get interested in Astronomy and Space, it personally motivated me to become a professional astronomer.

Clarke when he got permanent resident in Sri Lanka, hardly travelled abroad unless it was absolutely essential. So although his large fan base hardly saw him, we were in Sri Lanka, privileged to drop in at his place for a chat, even without an appointment.

I remember very well an incident during one such visit in the mid 1970’s. Arthur’s mother had come from England and Arthur asked me if I had seen his latest toy and went into his office to bring it out. I was left chatting with his mother who said, “Little things please little minds”. Arthur was still her kid, refusing to grow up.

Clarke also saw himself that way and wanted the epitaph on his grave to read. “Hear lies Clarke, He never grew up, but never stopped growing.”

Those who have met Sir Arthur personally would agree with me on this, he had a great sense of humor.
Do you recall anything particular interesting?

His great sense of humor is well known to all of us. One of the most interesting stories was circulated soon after the Moon landing in 1969. The Flat-Earth Society worried that they would be unable to explain the view of the earth as a globe, published a fantasy story in the TWA magazine saying that the Moon landing was staged by NASA with Arthur C. Clarke writing the screenplay. I can still remember Arthur being amused at being named the author. Over 20 years later when the same fantasy was turned into a conspiracy theory and made famous by a TV program. Observing the new interest, Arthur said he had sarcastically written to his good friend Dan Goldin, who was then the NASA Administrator and reminded him that he had never been paid royalties on the Hoax Moon Landing screenplay. He told me that NASA never replied his e-mail.

Sir Arthur had three wishes, making contact with ET, ending our addiction to oil by going for cleaner energy sources and Peace in Sri Lanka.

It’s interesting that last of the three wishes that Arthur C Clarke has achieved this year with the termination of the Civil war in May. Peace has returned and now we are able to go to Jaffna for example to see the annular eclipse of the Sun which is going to happen next year January 15th, around the same time of the closing ceremony of the International Year of Astronomy. I think it is wonderful to us to have this opportunity and finally see peace in Sri Lanka, we have that Peace will last for a long time. It is a pity that Arthur C Clarke was not still living to see this happens.

Sir Arthur C Clarke’s work will inspire many more generations to come, and with that said, I would like to conclude this 365days of astronomy podcast which we did as a tribute to commemorate his 92nd birthday.

Thank you and clear skies to all.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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