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Canada Space Television Science

Human Survival Depends On Space Exploration, Says Hawking 438

Posted by timothy
from the what's-he-hawking? dept.
thomst writes "The Winnipeg Free Press posts a story by Cassandra Szklarski of the Canadian Press about an email interview with Stephen Hawking in which the astrophysicist and geek hero opines, 'Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space.' The story also covers the upcoming Canadian debut of Hawking's new TV series 'Brave New World With Stephen Hawking,' and his excitement about ongoing work at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ont. investigating quantum theory and gravity."
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Human Survival Depends On Space Exploration, Says Hawking

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  • Space ninjas (Score:5, Insightful)

    by suso (153703) * on Saturday November 19, 2011 @06:30PM (#38111286) Homepage Journal

    So he wants us to explore space, but not talk to aliens [slashdot.org].

    Looks like he dyed his hair.

  • Re:Space ninjas (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @06:39PM (#38111346) Homepage

    So he wants us to explore space, but not talk to aliens [slashdot.org].

    Not mutually exclusive. In fact, we should probably colonize space before inviting aliens to the neighborhood.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @06:39PM (#38111352)

    "Mr. President, I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy at the bottom of some of our deeper mine shafts . . . Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. But ah with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years."

    "Doctor, you mentioned the ration of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?"

    "Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious... service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature."

  • Make it a religion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <<circletimessquare> <at> <gmail.com>> on Saturday November 19, 2011 @06:41PM (#38111360) Homepage Journal

    People are always inventing religions. Most die, but the new (in the span of history) cults Scientology and Mormonism seem to be doing a good business, in the USA at least, other religions elsewhere. Since all religion does is answer the unanswerable questions of life, such as the purpose of it, just found a new religion where the answer to the meaning of life is to get the fuck off this planet. Maybe not using those exact words, I'm sure some more mystic and transcendental and pompous word choices can be arranged.

    What motivated people is not cold rational analysis. Motivation is emotional. So just translate the valid motivation into the wacky language of religion.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @06:46PM (#38111408)

    So he wants us to explore space, but not talk to aliens

    Getting the human race into space does not necessarily mean zipping around from one solar system to another like in Star Trek. Getting the human race to colonize our solar system would be quite sufficient and quite plausible given our understanding of science and technology. We are not likely to run into aliens elsewhere in our solar system so there is no real inconsistency. :-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @06:51PM (#38111452)

    Conservation can't work. The sun will distroy the Earth regardless.

  • Re:This Just In (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoeMerchant (803320) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @06:51PM (#38111458) Homepage

    cost per Kg to LEO is between $5,000-$10,000

    But it's the politicians fault...

    most likely... what's the cost (including logistics, support, benefit pay, etc.) to deploy a marine to Afghanistan for a year? For every 10 marines deployed "over there" for a year, could we get one up to the ISS?

  • by tragedy (27079) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @07:01PM (#38111518)

    The problem with this, is that it's too easy to end up with a Heaven's Gate [wikipedia.org], where the members end up committing suicide so that their spirits can reach a spaceship hidden behind a comet. Religious frameworks can sometimes herd people into accomplishing great works, but they're volatile and dangerous. If you invent a religion to achieve some grand goal, then you have the problem of what to do with the religion once the goal is achieved.

  • not any time soon (Score:4, Insightful)

    by binarstu (720435) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @07:07PM (#38111564)
    While I find the whole "let's escape our problems on Earth by migrating to space" fantasy interesting, I think it's worth remembering that, at our present rate of consumption, we will exhaust our planet's resources long before we're actually able to permanently survive somewhere else. For details, I'd suggest reading this excellent post [ucsd.edu] from physicist Tom Murphy's "Do the Math" blog. It was featured on Slashdot a while back.

    The basic point is that, given our current situation, proposing a future in space is essentially a distraction that ignores the problems we will absolutely have to solve here on Earth. Hawking is probably right in that, if we manage to survive long enough, we will eventually establish colonies on other worlds. But if we can't focus on immediate challenges here, we'll never get there.
  • Re:This Just In (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the gnat (153162) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @07:15PM (#38111620)

    So the cost to get someone into LEO in their birthday suit, let alone anywhere interesting like an established moon base, currently exceeds the average total asset holdings of most first world citizens.

    And it just keeps getting worse from there. Scientists who actually understand this stuff - all of them supporters of manned space exploration! - have come up with some interesting numbers for the expense of long-range expeditions. Ralph McNutt at JHU wrote a good article about exploring the outer planets [jhuapl.edu] using currently feasible technology. He envisions a series of five missions, each designed to avoid lethal radiation exposure, in the latter half of the 21st century. Estimated cost: $4 trillion. There's no colonization involved - this is just for doing flybys of gas giants and their moons. Sustaining a permanent settlement somewhere won't be any easier, because we'd need constant supply runs from Earth. How long does anyone think a moon base would last without a supply line? Think it'll be any easier on Mars?

    Now, I actually think we should do all this stuff at some point in the future - but it needs to get at least an order of magnitude cheaper before I'll advocate spending other people's money on it. Maybe with another hundred years' scientific development in the fields of human physiology, nanotechnology, and propulsion systems we'll be able to afford interplanetary travel for relatively large numbers of people. Right now, however, if we try to establish a permanent base (which we can't afford) on Mars, with enough fertile individuals to perpetuate the human race, they're basically equally fucked if the Earth gets hit by an asteroid - they'll just take a little longer to die.

  • Re:This Just In (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @07:16PM (#38111630)

    I don't see the U.S. leading any more manned space missions. The political climate does not allow that. All projects have to be done the "captialistic" way which means that everyone involved has to make a profit but since the project has to be funded by taxes anything more than $0 is too much.

    Uh, what? Are you a member of the Glorious People's Soviet Cryosleep Program who just woke up after thirty years?

    Launch costs for the Glorious People's Space Shuttle were around $20,000 a pound. The EVIL CAPITALIST Falcon 9 Heavy is expected to cost around $1,000 a pound.

    There are few things government does better than making things more expensive than they need to be. People who are spending their own money care about cost far more than people who are spending other people's money.

  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @07:32PM (#38111708) Homepage

    Yeah, lots of resources in nearly empty space.

    Tell you what, lets try some baby steps first - land on an asteroid. Put a research colony on the moon. Maybe a space elevator if your daring. In the mean time, try to figure out how to stay alive on the current space ship for a couple dozen more generations.

  • by GuldKalle (1065310) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @07:46PM (#38111836)

    The difference is, though, that there is no sun to provide energy. We'd need to lug an extra (~1kW/m2 * 500 yrs) with us. And I don't think lithium batteries will cut it.

  • by 0123456 (636235) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @07:52PM (#38111902)

    Cold rational analysis shows that we have neither the technology nor energy resources to even put a family of four on Mars, let alone spread out to other star systems.

    Thank you for proving that Anti-Space Nuttery is a religion.

    Cold rational analysis shows that you could put a family of four on Mars for a few billion dollars. Sustaining them would be more difficult, but probably not cost more than a hundred billion. So long as it was a private venture and not run by NASA, anyway.

    You sound like the people in 1900 claiming that we'd never fly a heavier-than-air aircraft, or in the 1930s that the fastest airliner might one day reach 250mph and carry a hundred people.

    Only a fanatic could believe that humans won't develop the technology to live in space, because all of our past history shows that we will if we're allowed to do so.

  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Saturday November 19, 2011 @07:58PM (#38111934)

    Yes, but Uranium could.

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @08:11PM (#38112032)
    Imagine the technology that would be needed to build a self-sufficient lunar colony. You would need to be carbon-neutral, recycle all your water, and pollution would generally be out of the question. Any dangerous byproducts created by the colony would have to be dealt with on-site.

    Sounds like technologies that would be important here on Earth also, and setting up a lunar base would create a need for such technology. The moon also has the advantage of allowing an emergency return to Earth, which makes it a good first step for living in space.

    Of course, the expenses are pretty high, and the technologies that would be developed would not be useful on Earth for a long time after the initial investment. Without any real profitable reason to live on the moon, it would be hard to justify spending that much money. Now, if we discovered some useful resource that could be profitably mined, that would be another story.
  • Re:Space ninjas (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WaywardGeek (1480513) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @08:48PM (#38112290) Journal

    Without gravity, we'd die. That's only part of what kills me about the whole manned space settlement concept. I love reading sci-fi where we live on lot's of planets and in space stations, but the fact is we're made of meat grown in a biological soup unique to Earth.

    So, here's what it take to populate the galaxy. First, you need patience. If you have a problem taking a few hundred years getting from place to place, you'll never make it. Second, you need to be made for deep space. Rather than meat, you need a body made of high-tech materials. Instead of a worrying about radiation damage, you should feel comfortable living near a radiation source that can power you trip from star to star. You should work well at liquid nitrogen temperatures to well above boiling. You should be able to shut down and go into sleep mode for many years at a time, cooling as low as 3 degrees Kelvin. In other words, it's not us meat-based creatures that will populate the galaxy, but the machines we create. Probably some sexy decedent of Siri. I hope she doesn't turn out to be a bitch.

  • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @08:51PM (#38112314) Homepage

    Money, in this case, stands for the opportunity cost for the skilled labor involved and for moving resources being used for other things to the colonization project. A lot of people currently working on treating cancer, finding new sources of energy, etc. would need to be put on project tract-housing-on-Mars.

    I think it's worth doing, mind you. But don't just say it's just a matter of "money." Money is a stand-in for labor and resources.

  • by Jeremi (14640) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @08:53PM (#38112328) Homepage

    Yes, but Uranium could.

    Q: What's worse that a Fukushima-style radiation leak?
    A: A Fukushima-style radiation leak in a small, enclosed space that you're going to have to live in for the next 300 years.

  • Re:Don't be silly (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jeremi (14640) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @08:57PM (#38112356) Homepage

    We're all going to become happy fluffy hippies and live a sustainable lifestyle in little teepees where we'll end all conflict by singing happy songs and shit.

    Great satire, and yet the survival plan you describe above is still much more realistic and attainable than the alternative proposed by Mr. Hawking.

  • Look the other way (Score:5, Insightful)

    by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:02PM (#38112382) Homepage Journal

    All this talk about Space Exploration is great, and I agree that in the future, we will one day have to colonize space.
    But what about right now?

    Space Colonization is simply not practical today and may not be for another century or longer. So why not look the other way? What about Oceanic Colonization? No exotic technology like carbon nanotube space tethers are required, no worries about intersteller radiation, bone mineral depletion, obtaining drinking water, fuel or breathable air. We have all the technology to build floating and underwater structures, we know who to make artificial island communities (look at Dubai)

    All this is right here, right now. Why don't we stop focusing so hard on the long shots and start looking at what we can start doing today to alleviate the population crises and making better use of our existing resources? It seems our astrophysics community really has a hard-on for space exploration while Oceanic dwellings are merely the pipe-dream of young architects as part of design competitions, but is mainly regarded as a novelty and not really taken all that seriously.

    70% of the earth is covered in water, scientists predict this will increase within the century.
    Does it not make sense to start adapting and learning to exist on the largest resource available on the Earth?

  • by MightyYar (622222) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:03PM (#38112390)

    Money may be an abstraction for barter, but it still gets you things like food. The amount of "money" is indeed infinite, but the resources available to us are not.

  • by cjcela (1539859) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:15PM (#38112464)
    If we had self-sustained habitats in which people would live for 500 years comfortably, you will likely have a hard time making the descendants of the first space travellers to get out of there comfortable spaceships and settle from scratch on a planet. Maybe instead of finding a planet like the one we have now it will be easier (and faster) to develop self-sustained space colonies in which people live in large ships, but are free and have the means to get resources from any planet.
  • by ildon (413912) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @09:32PM (#38112570)

    I think if you have an 9.0 earthquake and a 8m high tsunami in outer space, then you've got bigger things to worry about.

  • Re:Space ninjas (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 19, 2011 @10:07PM (#38112750)

    You seem to assume that there will, in that far future, be a difference between "us" and "our machines".

    One of the common misperceptions about nanotech and other such transhumanist, far-future, sci-fi-style guesswork is the failure to understand what radical advances in medical, materials, and computer science actually mean. Biology is nanotechnology that evolved in nature without having been designed... There is no such thing as wars with our "android children". We are the android children, our technology is an extension of ourselves -- not progeny, it is literally ourselves. We won't be "sending robots", we will be sending ourselves who have become merged with "robots". The term you're looking for is "post-biological".

    We won't need to engineer robots to escape Earth in our stead, we will be reengineering our very selves. No longer meatbags, we will be more than mere automata, and there is simply no need for this defeatist, mellowdramatic bitter-sweet send-off of our "children" from the womb of Earth. If there develops a significant population of autonomous robots, they will be with us, we'll bring them along and enjoy the experience of a shared evolution.

    Life on Earth doesn't just stop once a new species appears -- life keeps going while it forks. There are ancient species still around and just as alive as new ones.

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @11:36PM (#38113400) Homepage Journal

    There seems to be a basic human assumption that power plants must reside within the habitable portions of a craft. In reality, the powerplant(s) might be very distantly attached by spars. A mile long spar will introduce some interesting engineering challenges (depending on the materials used to make the spars) but it will most certainly remove most of the radiation hazard.

    And, this is where someone asks, "Why in hell would you want mile long spars? How big do you want this craft to be?" Well - thinking in interstellar terms, we don't have the technology to exceed the speed of light. Interstellar colonization will be done with generation ships. They'll have to be BIG, to carry a large DNA pool, plus ship's crew, plus the support personnel that will be needed by the colonists. Unless we get FTL, ships will have to be freaking HUGE! So, putting any hazardous power plants at the far end of a mile long spar just makes sense!

  • by billstewart (78916) on Saturday November 19, 2011 @11:39PM (#38113426) Journal

    Yes, we need to get off the planet and out of the solar system before the Sun blows up 4 billion years from now. We've got time. We also need to get off the planet before the next dinosaur-killer asteroid hits, probably somewhere between 0-100 million years from now. We've got time for that too. Meanwhile, our first step needs to be Not Being Dead, which means we not only have to find ways to not have a major nuclear war or an interesting biological war, and our next step needs to be to avoid rendering Earth uninhabitable before then. Working on both at once is just fine.

    Space technology is useful for building measurement systems to understand what's going on here on Earth. It's also useful for understanding what's going on in the rest of the solar system, so we can identify any dino-killer asteroids pointed at us and deflect them or blow them up, though even Tunguska-sized events are pretty rare - it'll be a much easier project if we let Moore's Law crank our electronics development for a couple of decades so we'll have much better and lighter-weight equipment. But to do anything serious out in space, or to terraform Mars into an emergency backup planet, we need to develop serious understanding of ecosystems, because we need to bring ecosystems anywhere we're going to bring humans. (You also need them even for robots, but they can use much simpler ecosystems.) All of that biology's a lot more difficult work than merely getting rockets that can go halfway across the solar system.

    Meanwhile, getting to the Moon was a fun way to demonstrate our military-industrial complex's skills that are layered on top of the heavy industry business. But right now we have to figure out how to get the heavy industry folks to stop cranking up the planet's thermostat, get the military-industrial complex to stop drumming up new business for themselves, and get a bunch of farmers to have better technology than slash-and-burn agriculture or petro-business-based fertilizers, and it wouldn't hurt if we can find something productive for the 50% of humanity that are no longer farmers to do.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @04:45AM (#38114836) Journal

    For that to work, you'll need to ditch minimal wage. While we're at it, we could also kill child labor laws - and why not, after all, you want people to start learning to work in the field from dawn till dusk at their young age - that's what most of them will do, anyway, and those who are fit for something better would probably have wealthy parents to begin with. All of which will, of course, lead to a society as prosperous and healthy as U.S. or Europe in late 19th age - a shining example for us to emulate

    Just don't forget to budget for machine guns to keep the rabble at bay. Those lazy bastards will do anything to avoid working and earning their pay - like rising up and killing all the job and wealth creators and other similarly important people in a so-called "revolution". We wouldn't want that kind of thing, right?

  • Re:Space ninjas (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jez9999 (618189) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @08:25AM (#38115564) Homepage Journal

    Biology is nanotechnology that evolved in nature without having been designed... There is no such thing as wars with our "android children". We are the android children, our technology is an extension of ourselves -- not progeny, it is literally ourselves. We won't be "sending robots", we will be sending ourselves who have become merged with "robots". The term you're looking for is "post-biological".

    We won't need to engineer robots to escape Earth in our stead, we will be reengineering our very selves.

    I agree with this, but the trouble is that it tends to utterly violate most religious dogmas that we're designed by a higher being, and re-engineering ourselves is assraping that so-called "perfect design". To be able to get away with this, we'd need to be able to defeat or eradicate religion, or the religious objection would prevent it. Do you see this happening?

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