Science fact follows fiction in 2001 space odysseys

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Science Correspondent

Arthur C Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, looked happy and relaxed yesterday in Sri Lanka as another of his predictions came true ahead of schedule. The first contact between the human race and the planet Jupiter - the tale he told in 2001 - took place last week, and the first data from the Galileo probe was received at the weekend.

But Mr Clarke, 77, told an audience in London - via another of his early predictions, the telecommunications satellite - that he is increasingly concerned that manned spaceflight will become dangerous. The reason for his fears is not malicious aliens, but the proliferation of man-made satellites.

"I'm worried about the astronauts on the Shuttle having to pick their way through orbiting minefields," he said.

In recent years, scientists have identified "space junk" - including a screwdriver dropped by an astronaut - as one of the biggest hazards in space. Even a tiny particle travels at thousands of miles per hour, gaining enough energy to punch a hole in a spacecraft's hull.

Besides being Britain's most famous science-fiction writer, Mr Clarke also enjoys a reputation for being right. Patrick Moore, the astronomer, recalled a debate he once had with Mr Clarke, saying: "I said I thought man would walk on the moon in about 1990; he said it would be more like 1970." Neil Armstrong took his first "small step" there in 1969.

For the future, Mr Clarke foresees the collapse of the nation state. He added that his biggest fears for the world stemfrom the threat of nuclear war, and the twin effects of overpopulation and disease.