We must travel to the stars to save the human race, says Hawking

Stephen Hawking warned that future generations would need to leave the planet to ensure the survival of the species as he picked up a prestigious scientific accolade yesterday.

Professor Hawking, 64, a mathematics professor at the University of Cambridge, said space rockets using the kind of technology seen in Star Trek would be needed to colonise hospitable planets.

His warning came as he collected Britain's highest scientific award, the Royal Society's Copley Medal, previously granted to Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday and Captain James Cook. Professor Hawking, who suffers from motor neurone disease, said he was "honoured" to be in the company of such esteemed men.

The society's president, Lord Rees, said he had contributed "as much as anyone since Einstein to our understanding of gravity".

Professor Hawking also spoke of his desire to go into space, and appealed to the Virgin tycoon, Sir Richard Branson, who is planning a "space tourism" venture, to realise his ambition. "My next goal is to go into space. Maybe Richard Branson will help me," he said.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4, he said scientists may be within 20 years of reaching the prediction in his book, A Brief History of Time, that mankind would one day "know the mind of God" by understanding the laws governing the universe.

He added that this knowledge may be vital to the human race's continued existence. "The long-term survival of the human race is at risk as long as it is confined to a single planet.

"Sooner or later, disasters such as an asteroid collision or nuclear war could wipe us all out. But once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe. There isn't anywhere like the Earth in the solar system, so we would have to go to another star.

"If we used chemical fuel rockets like the Apollo mission to the moon, the journey to the nearest star would take 50,000 years. This is obviously far too long to be practical, so science fiction has developed the idea of warp drive, which takes you instantly to your destination. Unfortunately, this would violate the scientific law which says that nothing can travel faster than light.

"However, we can still within the law, by using matter/antimatter annihilation, at least reach just below the speed of light. With that, it would be possible to reach the next star in about six years, though it wouldn't seem so long for those on board," he said.

The cult science-fiction series, Star Trek, has featured matter/antimatter annihilation as an explanation for the warp drive which powers spaceships like the Enterprise through vast distances in short periods.

But in reality, some scientists believe the radiation produced when matter and antimatter are brought together could one day be used to accelerate aircrafts close to the speed of light.

Meanwhile, to recognise Professor Hawking's achievements, the British astronaut Piers Sellers carried his medal into space on the July shuttle mission.

"Stephen Hawking is a hero to all of us involved in exploring the cosmos. It was an honour for the crew of the STS-121 mission to fly his medal into space," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test