Category Archives: Arthur C. Clarke

The Space Elevator Will Be Built About 50 Years After Everyone Stops Laughing

Arthur C. Clarke? Arthur Kantrowitz? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Science fiction luminary Arthur C. Clarke described the audacious idea of building an elevator from the surface of the Earth straight up into space and beyond geostationary orbit in his 1979 novel “The Fountains of Paradise”. The megaproject would require extremely strong lightweight material, and some engineers and scientists have questioned its feasibility. Clarke puckishly said that the space elevator would be built a few decades after people stopped laughing. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1979 Arthur C. Clarke addressed the 30th International Astronautical Congress and surveyed the concept of a “space elevator” which has also been called an “orbital tower” or “heavenly ladder”: 1

What I want to talk about today is a space transportation system so outrageous that many of you may consider it not even science-fiction, but pure fantasy. Perhaps it is; only the future will tell. Yet even if it is regarded as no more than a ‘thought-experiment’, it is one of the most fascinating and stimulating ideas in the history of astronautics.

Apparently, Clarke’s vivid quotation was modeled after an earlier remark made by Arthur Kantrowitz who was an influential proponent of an innovative idea for space transportation called laser propulsion. Clarke speculated about the time needed to develop the space elevator:

And when will we have that? I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess, so I’ll adapt the reply that Arthur Kantrowitz gave, when someone asked a similar question about his laser propulsion system:

The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing.

QI has not yet located the earlier comment by Kantrowitz about laser propulsion.

There is some evidence that Clarke later endorsed a shorter time as indicated in the selected citations in chronological order listed below. Continue reading


  1. Website: Island One Society, Reprint Article: Year: 1981, Journal: Advances in Earth Oriented Applications of Space Technology (the website incorrectly used the words “applied” and “technologies” in the journal name), Volume 1, Article Title: The Space Elevator: ‘Thought Experiment’, or Key to the Universe?, Author: Arthur C. Clarke, Note: Address to the XXXth International Astronautical Congress, Munich, 20 September 1979, Start Page 49, Quote Near Final Page, Publisher: Pergamon Press Ltd., U.K. Website description: Island One Society website operated by Dale Amon. (Accessed on June 8, 2017; QI has not verified the article in the original journal) Page 1 link Page 3 link

I Don’t Believe in Astrology; I’m a Sagittarian and We’re Skeptical

Arthur C. Clarke? Bob Thaves? Evan Esar? Jonah Peretti? Paul Heskett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke was once asked whether he believed in astrology, and he gave a facetious self-contradictory answer. I have not been able to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence linking the quip to Clarke known to QI appeared in the April 1997 issue of the U.K. magazine “Astronomy Now”. A letter from Paul Heskett of Somerset, England sympathetically suggested that astrology addressed social needs that were not treated by astronomy. Heskett stated that he heard the remark from Clarke. The variant spelling “sceptical” for “skeptical” was used in the magazine. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This is a point that all of us would do well to bear in mind; as perhaps, is that made by Arthur Clarke when he told me “I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarian and we’re sceptical.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1997 April, Astronomy Now, Volume 11, Number 4, Section: Your Views, (Letter from Paul Heskett, Somerset, England), Quote Page 10, Column 1, Intra Press, London. (Now published by Pole Star, Tonbridge, Kent) (Verified with scans; thanks to Space Telescope Science Institute Library, Baltimore, Maryland)

Planet “Earth”: We Should Have Called It “Sea”

Arthur C. Clarke? Carleton Ray? Ann Henderson-Sellers? James E. Lovelock? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The water covering our planet makes it look like a blue marble in pictures taken from outer space. Roughly three-quarters of the surface is enveloped in H₂O in liquid or frozen form. The science fiction luminary Arthur C. Clarke suggested that the name “Earth” should be changed to “Ocean” or “Sea”. Would you please help to find a citation for this remark?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this recommendation located by QI appeared in the proceedings of a conference held in 1963. The prominent oceanographer Carleton Ray was then working at the New York Aquarium, and during the meeting he spoke about “The Scientific Need for Shallow-Water Marine Sanctuaries “. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

We still view the sea as a limitless wilderness, which of course, it is not. We view the sea apart from the earth. We call this planet Earth, yet this is the only planet that has a sea. I think we should have called it “sea”, of course, but the naming is already done.

There was also evidence that Arthur C. Clarke suggested the name “Ocean”. See below for additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading


  1. 1965, Scientific Use of Natural Areas, edited by Julia and Henry Field, (XVI International Congress of Zoology, Washington, August 20-27, 1963) Article VI: The Scientific Need for Shallow-Water Marine Sanctuaries by Carleton Ray of the New York Aquarium, Section: Remarks Delivered at Symposium, Quote Page 92, Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida. (Verified with scans; thanks to Thomas Fuller and the University of Maryland library system)

Human: A Non-Linear Servo-Mechanism Weighing Only 150 Pounds that Can Be Produced Cheaply by Unskilled Labor

Arthur C. Clarke? Albert Scott Crossfield? George T. Hauty? S. Fred Singer?

spacewalk07Dear Quote Investigator: In the early days of the space-age researchers and administrators were considering replacing human pilots and astronauts with computers. The argument against this form of automation was presented with a single humorous sentence that emphasized the advantages of humans. Are you familiar with this quotation? Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In May 1954 “The New York Times” published an article titled “Test Pilot Faces Robot Challenge” which reported on suggestions made by scientists within the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) alliance that test pilots should be replaced by machines. A set of pilots spoke in opposition to this proposal during a meeting of a NATO advisory group.

Albert Scott Crossfield was a prominent American test pilot who had achieved speed records while flying experimental aircraft. He delivered a compact comical summary of human uniqueness in the form of an interrogative. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

“Where can you find another non-linear servo-mechanism weighing only 150 pounds and having great adaptability, that can be produced so cheaply by completely unskilled labor?” Mr. Crossfield” inquired.

The passage above was the earliest instance located by QI. Interestingly, it did not contain the word “computer”. Also, the words were spoken as a rebuttal to the idea of replacing aircraft pilots and not astronauts. Many variant expressions have evolved over time. QI believes that earlier instances may exist.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1954 May 6, New York Times, Test Pilot Faces Robot Challenge: U. S., British, French Fliers Reply in NATO Air Group to Machine Proposal by Thomas F. Brady, Quote Page 11, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1954 May 6, Seattle Daily Times, Supersonic Pilots Resent Idea of Yielding to Robots (New York Times News Service), Quote Page 15, Column 5, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)

Who Are the People Most Opposed to Escapism? Jailors!

J. R. R. Tolkien? Arthur C. Clarke? C. S. Lewis? China Miéville? Michael Moorcock? Neil Gaiman

escape14Dear Quote Investigator: Today, the genres of science fiction and fantasy are ascendant in popular culture. But detractors have long complained that works in these domains are escapist, and critics have asserted that the literary values displayed are sharply circumscribed. The shrewdest riposte I have heard to these notions is:

Who are the people most opposed to escapism? Jailors!

Would you please explore the origin of this remark?

Quote Investigator: The exact concise formulation given above was written by the well-known science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, but he credited the fantasy writer C. S. Lewis who was best-known for creating the world of Narnia. Indeed, a similar remark was made by Lewis, but he credited the prominent fantasy author J. R. R. Tolkien who was best-known for crafting the legendarium of the Middle-earth.

In 1938 Tolkien delivered a lecture about works of fantasy to an audience at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He extended his talk to produce an essay titled “On Fairy-Stories” which was published by the Oxford University Press in 1947. The essay was reprinted in a 1965 collection called “Tree and Leaf”. Tolkien championed the value of literature deemed escapist: 1

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all.

Tolkien’s remarks were thematically related to the quotation, and he mentioned jailers, but there was no strongly matching statement within the essay. Boldface has been added to excerpts:

Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.

C. S. Lewis discussed “escape” in an essay titled “On Science Fiction” which appeared in a 1966 collection. Lewis argued that some adherents of vehement political beliefs were hostile to exercises of the imagination because they wished to “keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict”: 2

That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of ‘escape’. I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, ‘What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: jailers. The charge of Fascism is, to be sure, mere mud-flinging. Fascists, as well as Communists, are jailers; both would assure us that the proper study of prisoners is prison. But there is perhaps this truth behind it: that those who brood much on the remote past or future, or stare long at the night sky, are less likely than others to be ardent or orthodox partisans.

So, Lewis ascribed a closely matching version of the saying to Tolkien, but the remark was not written; instead, Lewis heard it during a conversation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading


  1. 1965 (Copyright 1964), Tree and Leaf by J. R. R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, Start Page 3, Quote Page 60, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2002 (1966 Copyright), Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories by C. S. Lewis, Essay: On Science Fiction, Start Page 59, Quote Page 67, A Harvest Book: Harcourt Inc., New York. (Google Books Preview)