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For the solar sail named after the story, see Sunjammer (spacecraft).
Author Arthur C. Clarke
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Published in Boys' Life
Publication date March, 1964

"Sunjammer" is a science fiction short story by English author Arthur C. Clarke. It was originally published in 1963.[1] It has also been published under the title "The Wind from the Sun" and has been included into Clarke's 1972 collection of short stories with this title.

Plot summary[edit]

John Merton, a spaceship designer, develops and promotes a lightweight spacecraft with a large area of solar sail, to be powered entirely by radiation pressure—the so-called wind from the sun. The sun-yachts start their journey in Earth's orbit, and, pushed simply by sunlight, can achieve a speed of two thousand miles an hour within a day.

The concept leads to the development of the sport of sun-yacht racing, and after several years of refining his ideas, Merton competes in what will be his final race. His hopes for victory rest on the low mass of his craft which he has made possible through advances in automation enabling him to fly it solo.

Soon, all but two of the competitors have dropped out, mainly due to damaged craft, and it is a straight race between Merton's craft and Lebedev, entered by a Russian crew from the University of Astrograd. Although the Lebedev is lagging Merton's yacht, its senior pilot delivers a surprise blow by announcing that he plans to jettison his co-pilot in an escape capsule now that the earlier, navigationally intensive part of the race has finished.

Merton responds by recalculating his expected margin of victory and realises that the race is now going to be neck-and-neck at the finish line. At this point news arrives of a massive, and potentially deadly, solar flare. The race has to be abandoned, and there is no winner, though Merton abandons his craft with its sail still fully extended in order to ensure that it will be blown into interstellar space.


Algis Budrys praised the story as an example of "good, solid science fiction . . . the kind of story which justifies the existence of science fiction as a genre."[2]

Wollheim and Carr selected the story for their annual "year's best" anthology.

Planned 2014 Solar Sail Mission[edit]

NASA plans to launch a Solar Sail Technology Demonstration mission titled 'Sunjammer'. The title is a reference to the story.[3]

See also[edit]

  • Mike Oldfield used the title "Sunjammer" for the fifth movement of his Tubular Bells II album. Oldfield has also used other Arthur C. Clarke titles as basis for his music, such as The Songs of Distant Earth for his The Songs of Distant Earth album.
  • The Doctor Who serial Enlightenment also used a solar sail race as the basis for its plot.
  • Poul Anderson writing as Winston P. Sanders published an apparently unrelated story under the title "Sunjammer" in Analog Science Fiction / Science Fact, April 1964.
  • A modified version of the narrative appears in The Last Theorem, Clarke's final novel, which was co-written by Frederik Pohl. In this version the (female) protagonist is abducted by aliens during the race.


  1. ^ Short Stories., 2007-2011, retrieved June 22, 2011
  2. ^ "Galaxy Bookshelf", Galaxy Science Fiction, October 1966, pp.153
  3. ^ "The Sunjammer Project". Retrieved 4 May 2013. 
  • Clarke, Arthur C. The Best of Arthur C Clarke; 1956–1972. Published 1973

External links[edit]