Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hawking says man should colonize other star systems to avoid extinction


LONDON: It's time humans moved out of the solar system and colonized other star systems, says theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, as otherwise there is a threat of extinction to the human species.

Life on earth could be wiped out by a nuclear holocaust or an asteroid striking the planet, he warned. Once man spreads out into the space and establish colonies, the future is safe for humanity, the wheel-chair bound scientist told BBC Radio just before he received the Royal Society's Copley Medal, the top science award in the U.K., Thursday.

There are no planets in the solar system that is similar to earth and hence man should spread his wings beyond the sun and its planets into another star system, he said, adding the present system of rockets and space vehicles are incapable of such an odyssey. Technologies like "warp drives" mentioned in futuristic TV programs like Star Trek, where travel at the speed of light is visualized, too may not be practical, he said. On the other hand, concepts like matter/anti-matter annihilation for propulsion could become helpful, he added.

Saying disasters like a nuclear war or an asteroid hitting the earth can "wipe us all out," he predicted once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe. This will require identifying hospitable planets in other star systems and traveling to these planets. If the chemical fuel rockets, which were used in rockets that propelled the spaceships that took man to moon, the journeys to planets in other star systems will require 50,000 years and more of time, he said.

Explaining the matter/anti-matter propulsion, he said when matter and anti-matter meet up, they disappear in a burst of radiation. If this is beamed out of the back of a spaceship, it could drive it forward. This could give a speed just below the speed of light, which will mean man can reach a new star system in about six years. "It would take a lot of energy to accelerate to near the speed of light," he said.

Hawking, 64, author of several books outlining what the future holds, is a cripple because of a rare motor neuron disease. He can communicate only with the aid of a computerized voice synthesizer.

Saying he is not afraid of death, but is not in a hurry to die, Hawking said one of his desires is to go into space. "My next goal is to go into space. Maybe Richard Branson will help me," he said in reference to the space travel programs for 'tourists,' floated by the British entrepreneur's Virgin group via Virgin Galactic.


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