Robert L. Forward, Space Visionary and Friend of the Foundation, Dies at the Age of 70

Robert L. Forward, Space Visionary and Friend of the Foundation, Dies at the Age of 70

September 23, 2002 Press Releases

Los Angeles, CA, September 23, 2002 – The members of the Space Frontier Foundation lament the loss of one of the true greats of space fact and fiction, Dr. Robert L. Forward. Dr. Forward was, as his name implied, a “forward” thinker, and creator of visions of the future that inspired and excited. His careful style and gentle demeanor spoke well of the man, and his ideas made him a Visionary to those of us who had the pleasure of meeting and knowing him.

Bob was a “big idea” man, and never thought small. He championed many great ideas for humanity, especially the idea of space tethers and intergalactic travel. During his years as a writer and thinker, he tirelessly traveled the world spreading the dream that tomorrow can be a great place, and that we, as humans, have a great future among the stars.

Standing at the front of a lecture hall in his brocaded gamblers’ vest, he cut a figure that at once was as solid as any man of the West and as fanciful as any dream of tomorrow you ever had.

He inspired us all. Bob Forward had class.

We in the Space Frontier Foundation will miss him.
– Rick Tumlinson, Founder

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 Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. 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: