He may be part of the bipartisan Climate Leadership Council to fight global warming, but Stephen Hawking also wants humans to prepare for the possibility that Earth is a lost cause.
During a speech at the Starmus Festival in Norway, the legendary theoretical physicist urged world leaders to send astronauts back to the moon and construct a base there within 30 years. He added that humans should be on Mars within the next 15 years, with a base following within a few decades.
“Spreading out into space will completely change the future of humanity,” Hawking said. “It would unite competitive nations in a single goal, to face the common challenge for us all.”
That “common challenge” is humanity’s survival—Hawking said that there was no long term future for humans on Earth. He predicted the planet would either be hit by an asteroid or engulfed by the sun.
“If humanity is to continue another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before,” he said. “Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves.”
The Cambridge University professor is doing his part to help in this effort—Hawking revealed that he’s working on a spacecraft of his own as part of the Breakthrough Starshot project. The craft, called a Star Chip, is a few centimeters in size and would carry a lightsail weighing a few grams. It would be powered by Earth-based lasers that would drive the tiny probe at about 100 million miles an hour, one-fifth the speed of light.
This vehicle could reach Mars in less than an hour and Pluto within a few days. It would pass the Voyager space probes launched in 1977 in less than a week and reach Alpha Centauri (the star system closest to the solar system) in 20 to 25 years. Ideally, the Star Chip would discover a “Second Earth” which could sustain human life, with interstellar travel following within 200 to 500 years.
“We are standing at the threshold of a new era,” Hawking said. “It would be the moment when human culture goes interstellar, when we finally reach out into the galaxy.”
Hawking isn’t the only person pushing for the return of rocket men—the European Space Agency also wants to construct a “moon village” in the next 20 years. The department is collaborating with Russia to send a probe into space within the next three years.
While humans are still on Earth, however, they must do all they can to protect it, according to Hawking. As such, he called President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement “the most serious and wrong decision on climate change this world has seen.”
“If there are beings alive on Alpha Centauri today, they remain blissfully ignorant of the rise of Donald Trump,” Hawking said.