Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist and academic celebrity whose distinguished scientific career spans over forty years. Hawking is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a lifetime member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and in 2009 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. From 1979 to 2009, Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. He is also a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and a Distinguished Research Chair at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.
Hawking is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, specifically in the context of black holes. He has also achieved success with works of popular science. His best-known book is A Brief History of Time, which seeks to explain a range of subjects in cosmology, including the Big Bang, black holes and light cones to the layman reader. Hawking's key scientific works have included providing, with Roger Penrose, theorems regarding gravitational singularities in the framework of general relativity, and the theoretical prediction that black holes should emit radiation.
Hawking was featured in our "Month of Thinking Dangerously" series, contributing the dangerous idea that we should start thinking about how to abandon Planet Earth to keep humanity from extinction.
Stephen Hawking: I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let's hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load.
I see great dangers for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when its survival has been a question of touch and go. The Cuban missile crisis in 1963 was one of these. The frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future. We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate them all successfully. But I'm an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe, as we spread into space.
If we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, we should make sure we survive and continue. But we are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history. Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth, are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million. Our only chance of long term survival, is not to remain inward looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space. We have made remarkable progress in the last hundred years. But if we want to continue beyond the next hundred years, our future is in space. That is why I'm in favor of manned, or should I say "personed," space flight.