[Cross posted from the IdeaFestival web log] In an essay published today in the New York Times, science writer Dennis Overbye reflects on a life - his life - guided in part by the visionary science fiction of the late Arthur C. Clarke.
I’ve lived in Clarke’s universe ever since I was in eighth grade and a classmate slipped me a paperback edition of Clarke’s 'Reach for Tomorrow,' a collection of short stories. Until that point my biggest ambition was to play second base for the New York Yankees.
But here is the heart of the essay:
In his short story 'The Nine Billion Names of God,' published in 1953, Clarke wrote of a pair of computer programmers sent to a remote monastery in Tibet to help the monks there use a computer to compile a list of all the names of God. Once the list was complete, the monks believed, human and cosmic destiny would be fulfilled and the world would end.
The programmers are fleeing the mountain, hoping to escape the monks’ wrath when the program finishes and the world is still there, when one of them looks up.
'Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.'
That was a typical Clarke ending, and it seemed only natural upon his death that nature might want to reciprocate.
And as Overbye points out, it did. Having traveled a colossal distance, on the morning of his death the remnants a gamma-ray burst lit up an area of the night sky in the region of the constellation Boötes before dimming again. Fitting.
"Into this debate step two of the nation’s most prominent space historians and policy experts, Roger Launius and Howard McCurdy, with their new book Robots in Space. While the title suggests a history of robotic (a term they prefer to unmanned, since they note humans are required for the operation of every robotic space mission to date) spaceflight, this book is instead an examination of the history of the various arguments for sending humans and machines into space, and their relative merits. It is an authoritative, detailed look at how these arguments evolved and what the future of humans and robots in space might hold."