Stephen Hawking…Dr. Stephen Hawking, a professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, delivers a speech entitled “Why we should go into space” during a lecture that is part of a series honoring NASA’s 50th Anniversary, Monday, April 21, 2008, at George Washington University’s Morton Auditorium in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Paul. E. Alers)
Stephen Hawking’s Daunting Prediction – “We Need To Colonize Another Planet…NOW!” In a recent speech at Oxford University Union, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking made a daunting prediction: humanity only has about 1,000 years left of viable existence if we don’t leave the planet.
The professor argued that humanity is unlikely to survive at all, given the many crises we’re set to face over the next millennium. But if we want a chance at avoiding extinction, our best shot is to colonize other planets and move away from our “fragile” Earth.
“We must…continue to go into space for the future of humanity,” Dr. Hawking told his audience, according to the Washington Post. “I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.” Though this prediction provides little comfort, much of Dr. Hawking’s speech was optimistic. A millennium is a long time to figure out how to colonize space, and efforts are already in progress. Plans are underway for humans to visit Mars, with an ultimate goal of colonizing the red planet. Scientists have discovered potentially habitable expoplanets in the galaxy that could be potential homes—if we make it to them.
Hawking also noted in his speech that “the biggest and most immediate challenge for humanity will come in the next century.” We’re facing threats like nuclear terrorism, global climate change, and the rise of artificial intelligence, which he warns could end mankind.
“Although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next 1,000 or 10,000 years,” Dr. Hawking said in the speech. “By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race.” Hawking also argued that despite challenges, it is a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics.”
NASA has already been using telescopes like Kepler to detect and map planets based on fluctuations in light. While there are only a handful that are potentially habitable, and almost all are out of reach with our current technology, all hope is not lost. The development of new propulsions methods could one day lead us to planets that future generations can call home.
One of the first barriers to colonization is the ability to afford it in the first place. Musk estimates a trip to Mars would cost about $10 billion per person. Some projects estimate it would cost NASA around $100 billion over 30 years to send astronauts there and bring them back successfully. To make colonization sustainable, Musk estimates we would have to reduce the cost to about $200,000 per person—the median cost of a house in the U.S.
“The key is making this affordable to anyone who wants to go,” Musk concluded.
Achieving that kind of price tag would involve making rockets reusable and increase both capacity and efficiency of the journey to Mars. Musk estimates SpaceX would need to build a fleet of about 1,000 ships, carrying 100 people, departing from Earth every 26 months to make the venture economically viable.
These new predictions have created a new space race between corporations like Boeing, Blue Origin, and SpaceX. Having a corporate space program ensures a cash flow that government agencies can’t guarantee, and private companies often collaborate with NASA to facilitate their more ambitious projects.
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet,” Hawking urged his audience. “Try to make sense of what you see; wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”