Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hawking says humanity has to move to the stars, not just look

In an AP story posted this morning on Yahoo, super-physicist Stephen Hawking says humanity must expand from Earth in order to insure the survival of the race. A long clip from the article follows:
HONG KONG - The survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there's an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy the Earth, world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking said Tuesday.

The British astrophysicist told a news conference in Hong Kong that humans could have a permanent base on the moon in 20 years and a colony on Mars in the next 40 years.

"We won't find anywhere as nice as Earth unless we go to another star system," added Hawking, who arrived to a rock star's welcome Monday. Tickets for his lecture planned for Wednesday were sold out.

He added that if humans can avoid killing themselves in the next 100 years, they should have space settlements that can continue without support from Earth.

"It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," Hawking said. "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."

The 64-year-old scientist -- author of the global best seller "A Brief History of Time" -- is wheelchair-bound and communicates with the help of a computer because he suffers from a neurological disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

And, yes, Stephen Hawking is a "super-physicist." We have "supermodels," don't we?

Hawking numbers 'sudden global warming' among the potential events that may wipe out Earth-bound humanity. I have argued global warming may not be caused by humanity -- but that does not mean that it isn't happening. The global climate is always changing -- and we know that it has sometimes changed dramatically, in a relatively short time (without human assistance). Indeed, focusing our efforts at "stopping" global warming -- by curtailing auto emissions or handicapping industry -- may well cripple our global economy... and be about as effective at holding back global climate change as standing on a beach with an umbrella would be at trying to hold back a tsunami. Nature is bigger and stronger than we are. We should diversify, and not limit ourselves to the hope that we can control the heating and air conditioning system on Spaceship Earth.

And for a truly good scare about a bleak human future without space exploration, read Stephen Baxter's Titan. It's a 1997 book, slightly out of date, but all too plausible in its description of the slow strangulation of the space program, the International Space Station, the failure to replace the Shuttle, the abandonment of the once-so-very-real excitement about going into space to live and work. (One plot element I'll question: Why would Evangelical Christians be against the exploration of space? Do they not really believe that God gave them dominion over His creation?)

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