Robert L. Forward

This article is about the physicist and science fiction writer. For the article about his son, see Robert D. Forward.
Robert L. Forward
Born (1932-08-15)August 15, 1932
Geneva, New York, U.S.
Died September 21, 2002(2002-09-21) (aged 70)
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Nationality American
Fields Physicist
Institutions Hughes Aircraft
Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Alma mater University of Maryland
Doctoral advisor Joseph Weber
David Mandeen Zipoy
Known for Statite
Spouse Martha Dodson (1954-2002; his death)
Children Robert Dodson Forward
Mary Lois Mattlin
Julie Elizabeth Fuller
Eve Lauren Forward

Robert Lull Forward (August 15, 1932 – September 21, 2002) was an American physicist and science fiction writer.[1] His literary work was noted for its scientific credibility and use of ideas developed from his career as an aerospace engineer.


Forward earned his doctorate from the University of Maryland in 1965, with a thesis entitled Detectors for Dynamic Gravitational Fields, for the development of a bar antenna for the detection of gravitational radiation.[2]

Career and research

He then went to work at the research labs of Hughes Aircraft, where he continued his research on gravity measurement and received 18 patents. He took early retirement in 1987, to focus on his fiction writing and consulting for such clients as NASA and the U.S. Air Force. In 1994, he co-founded the company Tethers Unlimited, Inc. with Robert P. Hoyt, where he served as Chief Scientist and Chairman until 2002.

Much of his research focused on the leading edges of speculative physics but was always grounded in what he believed humans could accomplish. He worked on such projects as space tethers and space fountains, solar sails (including Starwisp), antimatter propulsion, and other spacecraft propulsion technologies, and did further research on more esoteric possibilities such as time travel and negative matter. He was issued a patent for the statite, and contributed to a concept to drain the Van Allen Belts.

Forward Mass Detector

Forward's extensive work in the field of gravitational wave detection included the invention of the rotating cruciform gravity gradiometer or 'Forward Mass Detector', for Lunar Mascon (mass concentration) measurements. The gravity gradiometer is described in the well-known textbook Gravitation by Misner, Thorne & Wheeler. The principle behind it is quite simple; getting the implementation right is tricky. Essentially, two beams are crossed over and connected with an axle through their crossing point. They are held at right angles to each other by springs. They have heavy masses at the ends of the beams, and the whole assembly spun around the common axle at high speed. The angle between the beams is measured continuously, and if it varies with a period half that of the rotation period, it means that the detector is experiencing a measurable gravitational field gradient.


In addition to more than 200 papers and articles, he published 11 novels. Critics' reviews were mixed, always praising the science concepts and the aliens he created, but often finding the plots thin and the humans shallow.[2] His treatment of hard-science topics in fictional form is highly reminiscent of the work of Hal Clement. He described his first novel, Dragon's Egg, as "a textbook on neutron star physics disguised as a novel." His novel Rocheworld describes a double-planet system with a single shared atmosphere and ocean, and a beam-powered propulsion interstellar space ship to get there. Forward co-authored two Rocheworld novels with his wife, Martha Dodson Forward, and two additional Rocheworld novels with his second daughter, Julie Fuller. Forward also helped Larry Niven calculate the parameters of the Smoke Ring for his novel The Integral Trees.

Personal life

Forward's son, Bob Forward, has led a successful career as a storyboard artist and writer in television animation, including in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, The Legend of Zelda, and most famously, Beast Wars. He is also the author of two novels, The Owl and The Owl 2: Scarlet Serenade.

Forward's youngest, Eve Forward, has written two novels: Villains by Necessity and Animist.


In 2001, Forward received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He died on September 21, 2002.[3]


Dragon's Egg series

  1. Dragon's Egg (1980)
  2. Starquake (1985)

Both collected in an omnibus edition Dragon's Egg & Starquake (1994)

Rocheworld series

1. Rocheworld (Baen, 1990) 155,000 words, originally published in these iterations:
Rocheworld (1981) original manuscript, 150,000 words
Rocheworld (Analog, 1982) 60,000 words
The Flight of the Dragonfly (Timescape, 1984) hardcover, ~100,000 words
The Flight of the Dragonfly (Baen, 1985) paperback, 110,000 words
2. Return to Rocheworld (1993) with Julie Forward Fuller
3. Marooned on Eden (1993) with Martha Dodson Forward[n 1]
4. Ocean Under the Ice (1994) with Martha Dodson Forward
5. Rescued from Paradise (1995) with Julie Forward Fuller




Forward also wrote many articles in scientific journals and filed many patents, mainly while working for Hughes Aircraft.

Further reading

Archival resources


  1. Baen Books mistakenly put "Margaret Dodson Forward" instead of "Martha Dodson Forward" on the cover of the book. The title page in the book has her name correctly as "Martha".


  1. Benford, Gregory; Benford, James (August 2003). "Obituary: Robert Lull Forward". Physics Today. 56 (8): 66–67. Bibcode:2003PhT....56h..66B. doi:10.1063/1.1611362.
  2. 1 2 Oliver, Myrna (September 24, 2002). "Robert L. Forward, 70; Physicist Wrote 11 Science Fiction Novels". Los Angeles Times. pp. 1–2. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  3. Tethers Unlimited (September 21, 2002). "Obituary: Dr. Robert L. Forward". SpaceRef. Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  4. "Original Manuscripts". J. Lloyd Eaton Collection Newsletter. Vol. 1 no. 1. University of California, Riverside. Summer 1988.
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