Robert Lull Forward died at home of brain cancer on September 21 2002, at the age of 70. Forward was born 15 August 1932 in Geneva, New York. After graduation from the University of Maryland in 1954 with a BS degree in Physics and a Second Lieutenant commission in the Air Force, he married Martha Neil Dodson and served two years stateside during the closing years of the Korean War. Upon leaving the service Forward was awarded a Hughes Aircraft Company Graduate Research Fellowship, which he used to obtain a MS in Applied Physics from UCLA in 1958 and a PhD in Physics from the University of Maryland in 1965. Forward was one of the early pioneers in the field of experimental gravitational radiation astronomy. For his PhD thesis he built and operated the first bar antenna for the detection of gravitational radiation under the direction of Profs. Weber and Zipoy. The antenna is now in the Smithsonian Museum.
Forward worked for 31 years at the Hughes Aircraft Company Corporate Research Laboratories in Malibu, CA in positions of increasing responsibility until he took early retirement in 1987 to spend more time on writing novels and his aerospace consulting company business - Forward Unlimited . During his tenure at Hughes, he received 18 patents, and published numerous papers on experimental gravity instruments and measurements, including the first paper on using the normal modes of the Earth to set an upper limit on interstellar millicycle gravitational radiation; a paper on the details of the wideband "chirp" signal to be expected from the gravitational collapse of a binary neutron star pair; and a method for "flattening" spacetime over a hatbox-sized region in an orbiting microgravity space lab to the picogravity level.
Forward also published the first paper showing that it was possible to build and operate a laser interferometer gravitational radiation antenna that was photon noise limited over the band from 1-20 kHz, and that further improvements in gravitational strain sensitivity needed only more laser power and longer lengths in the interferometer arms. The broadband gravitational strain sensitivity his laser interferometer antenna reached in 1972 was not bettered for over a decade. Forward also invented the multidirectional spherical bar antenna for gravitational radiation, and the rotating cruciform gravity gradiometer Mass Detector for Lunar Mascon measurements (which Misner, Wheeler & Thorne pointed out can detect the curvature of spacetime produced by a fist).
From the time of his retirement from Hughes in 1987 onward, Forward was a consultant for the Air Force and NASA on advanced space propulsion concepts, with an emphasis on propulsion methods (lightsail, antimatter, electrodynamic tether, etc.), that use physical principles other than chemical or nuclear rockets. In 1992 he formed the company, Tethers Unlimited, with Dr. Robert P. Hoyt. When he reached 70 he "retired" to part time consulting and writing.
In addition to over 200 papers and articles, Forward published 11 "hard" science fiction novels, where the science is as accurate as possible-consistent with telling a good story. Forward "taught" science through his novels. His first book, DRAGON'S EGG, expanded upon Frank Drake's idea of tiny fast-living creatures living on the surface of a neutron star. Forward called it, "A textbook on neutron star physics disguised as a novel." The book is often assigned as "extra credit reading" in beginning astronomy courses. The science in his books has often been novel enough that many of his fiction books have been referenced in journal publications as "prior art publications".
Downloads of many of Forward's papers can be obtained by visiting his web site at: http://www.robertforward.com/.
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this page last updated 18 March 2006
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