RIP: Robert L. Forward

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Sun Sep 22 2002 - 20:03:48 MDT

> This was posted on
> Robert P. Hoyt, Ph.D, President, CEO, & Chief Scientist
> Friends,
> It is my sad duty to inform you that Dr. Robert L. Forward has left
> this mortal Earth.
> Bob passed away early in the morning on September 21, 2002. A
> memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, September 28th, at 1 p.m.
> at the Westwood Hills Congregational Church in Westwood, CA (Los
> Angeles area).
> Bob Forward leaves behind a truly astounding legacy. In addition to
> his pioneering work on solar sails, space tethers, antimatter
> propulsion, and other advanced space propulsion technologies, Bob also
> performed seminal work in several other areas, including smart
> structures and gravitational astronomy.
> In addition to his technical work, Bob also strove -- through his
> popular science writings, science fiction books, and countless
> lectures -- to educate and inspire the next generations of scientists.
> The many letters and emails that people sent to him over the past
> several months are testament to the fact that his work had a strong
> influence on the careers of many of us. Those letters meant a great
> deal to him.
> Bob prepared several obituaries for the various professional
> organizations to which he belonged. One of them is given below:
> Robert Lull Forward
> The intelligent pattern of protoplasm that had been Robert L. Forward
> ceased coherent operation on September 21, 2002.
> Robert Lull Forward died at home of brain cancer 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: <>.

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