Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist, has repeated his warning that humanity needs to move out into space if it expects to secure its long-term survival. Hawking cites a number of threats that face humans while confined to a single planet.
According to a story on MyFox, Hawking stated:
“It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let’s hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.”
Stephen Hawking cites two types of disasters that could befall the human race should it remain on a single planet. These are disasters that humans themselves can cause, such as a nuclear holocaust or environmental degradation, or natural catastrophes like an asteroid strike, a super volcano, or an especially virulent plague.
Places in our solar system that human beings might migrate to are somewhat limited. Plans to return to the Moon and eventually establish a settlement have been canceled by the Obama administration. Legislation by Congress has preserved, for the time being, that option if President Obama changes his mind or a future president decides it is a worthy goal.
Mars is held out as a strong possibility by some space enthusiasts, especially if the Red Planet could be “terraformed” to make it more inhabitable by Earth humans. Scientists believe that Mars was far more Earth-like than it currently is billions of years ago, with rivers, seas, and perhaps native life.
Ultimately, humankind will have to find new worlds in orbit around other stars. Most scientists believe that there are billions of such worlds. The problem is how to get to them.
Human beings have so far been able to travel just a tiny fraction of the speed of light. Even if propulsion systems can be developed that would allow human beings to travel a good percentage of light speed, trips between solar systems would take many years.
Some form of “warp drive” may be possible, in theory, but the technology to enable such a thing, not to mention the energy requirements, are as unimaginable at this time as a modern jet liner would be for a ship-builder in the 18th Century.
Still, when one of the most renowned scientists of our age suggests that space settlements are not only desirable, but necessary, then policy makers should listen. It is unclear, though, if anyone is at this time.
Stephen Hawking: Abandon the Earth, MYFox Nepa, August 9th, 2010
Obama: We Choose Not to Go to the Moon, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, January 27th, 2010
Senate NASA Bill to Include the Moon as a Destination for Future Explorers, Settlers, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, July 14th, 2010
Travel to Mars: The Greatest Adventure of the 21st Century, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, May 2nd, 2007
Warp Drive When?, NASA’s Glenn Research Center