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Professor Hawking on Breakthrough Starshot Initiative

Stephen Hawking
Posted: April 15, 2016 at 9:42 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Professor Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner, among others, have announced the Breakthrough Starshot last April 13th. This $100 million initiative seeks to develop microchip-sized space probes and place them into space using high-powered laser to send towards Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth — which is about 4.37 light years away.

Currently, the initiative’s focus is on feasibility. Prototypes and exploration-grade probes are projected to be decades away. However, if everything works out, the probes’ journey would take 20 years, down from 30,000 with present technology.

What could this mean for our future in space?

Professor Hawking says that without new propulsion methods, we won’t get far enough in space; not unless we spend thousands of years in flight. Currently, the most pragmatic technology available is the light-driven nanocraft. Meanwhile, fusion and antimatter are still at a distant future.

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking at an announcement of the Breakthrough Starshot initiative in New York. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

The Probability of Intelligent Alien Life

According to Hawking, there’s a low probability. However, the discoveries during the Kepler mission imply that there are millions of planets that can be inhabited in our galaxy alone. And there are over 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Thus, it would seem likely that there are other life forms out there. Per the professor, we should hope that they don’t find us first.

When asked about what intelligent life might look like, Professor Hawking jokingly said, “Judging by the election campaign, definitely not like us.

Why should we aspire to reach another star system?

Hawing says that there is no greater aspiration than to reach for the stars. And, it would not be wise to keep the eggs in just one fragile basket. Life on Earth is vulnerable to astronomical events like supernovas or asteroids, and other dangers that we impose on ourselves. Therefore, if we are to survive as human beings, we definitely have to spread to the stars.