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Sri Lanka Update: January 2006
by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, SETI League Technical Advisor

Friends, Earthlings, ETs-- lend me your sensory organs!

As 2005 drew to an end, I couldn't help contrasting it with the last few days of 2004 when all Hell broke loose with the devastating Asian Tsunami. Much of 2005 was spent on recovering from this massive blow from the sea, and as we noted on the first anniversary, the recovery will take more time, effort and resources.

Although the tsunami struck coastal areas even a few kilometres away from Colombo, I didn't visit any of the affected areas for several weeks I just couldn't bear to look at what had happened to my favourite coastal towns like Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa on Sri Lanka's southern coast. It was in early March that I finally ventured out on a quick trip. By then, a semblance of normalcy was beginning to return, but there were many tell-tale signs of the trail of destruction left behind by the power-packed waves.

The tsunami united the Global Family twice -- first in grief, and then in solidarity. The unprecedented outpouring of donations from all over the world was largely inspired by the live television coverage of the disaster's aftermath. I would personally have preferred a more benign reminder on how communications satellites bring us all together.

Indeed, the 60th anniversary of my inventing the communications satellite (in Wireless World, October 1945) was a key theme for myself during the year. To mark this, the Arthur C Clarke Foundation (www.clarkefoundation.org) organised a series of events on both sides of the Atlantic including a gathering at the Cosmos Club in Washington DC (which coincided with the Arthur Clarke Award), and another at the IEE in London. These events drew many of comsat industry's leaders from public, private and academic sectors, some good friends among them.

Although it would have been highly appropriate to join these events live via satellite, I chose to send video greetings instead. That was easier for me to accommodate as I am now very limited in time and energy owing to my Post Polio. But this didn't stop me from making encouraging noises from the sidelines for exciting new ventures that the Clarke Foundation embarked on during the year.

The most ambitious among them is the Arthur C. Clarke Center "to investigate the reach and impact of human imagination and put opportunity in its path". To be built in Las Vegas in partnership with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Center will focus especially on young people whose imaginations prove more robust than their peers, and to try to understand just why that happens. (Can't imagine why the Foundation and the University had me in mind.) The project, which had been under discussion for sometime, went public in the Summer, with a student competition for its design and supportive coverage in the media. All that now remains is for US$ 60 million to be raised for actually putting it up -- which is the challenge that the Foundation's dynamic Board of Directors has taken up. I have every confidence that they will meet this goal. (After all, that's practically petty cash for the comsats business -- the industry that I helped found with my 6-page paper for which I was paid the princely sum of 15 at the time. I can't remember what I squandered it on...)

I also had good fun doing some major media interviews looking back at the last six decades and how comsats have become central nodes in the nervous system of humankind. In October, BBC Radio 4 ran a half-hour special while BBC Focus magazine did a 10-page supplement. They also reissued my 1945 paper in a new, attractive colour format.

While I have had to seriously curtail my activities in recent years, I still get involved in a few interesting projects and worthy causes. I enjoyed visits by some of my project collaborators including actor/director Morgan Freeman, who is adapting Rendezvous with Rama, and producer Susan Philips who plans to film Fountains of Paradise, a good part of which will take place in Sri Lanka, hopefully in 2006.

I didn't write any new fiction in the past year, and my last novel The Last Theorem still remains half-written. Although I have mapped out the whole story, I just don't seem to have the energy to finish it: my agents are still looking for a co-author who can complete it. Meanwhile, Stephen Baxter continues to develop our collaborative Time Odyssey series, and its second novel Sunstorm came out in 2005. During the year, I did produce some two dozen pieces of non-fiction of my own for a range of print and online publications.

On the awards front, my adopted homeland honoured me twice during the year. First, the State Literary Council presented me its Sahithyaratna Award (literally, "Gem of Literature") for lifetime achievements in English literature. Then, President Chandrika Kumaratunga gave me the Lankabhimanya ("Pride of Lanka") -- the highest civilian honour from the government of Sri Lanka. In December, I received an honorary doctorate from the International Space University, which was presented at a special ceremony at its central campus in Strasbourg, France. While I accepted the first two in person in Colombo, a co-founder of the ISU (Bob Richards) accepted the last one.

I also lent my name to a new awards scheme in the UK that recognises excellence in space industry and space education. I hope "Arthur Clarke Space Awards" or Arthurs -- will become a regular feature in the coming years. I had great pleasure announcing a special award to the British Interplanetary Society during the first ceremony held in April.

Cataract surgery in September considerably improved sight in my right eye, which allows me to read again. I plan to have a lens implanted in my other eye too in the coming months. Meanwhile, I once again ended the year amidst a flood of birthday and Seasonal good wishes from all over the world, when I had my 88th birthday surrounded by family and staff.

Finally, I hope my long-standing wish for lasting peace in Sri Lanka would become a reality in 2006.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.


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