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Humanity cannot survive on Earth

The predictions of Stephen Hawking
Kaspersky Lab’s
on education

The death of civilization on Earth is only a matter of time. But where is the best place to start the colonization of space - the Moon or Mars? Is there a chance we could meet life beyond Earth? In the summer of 2017, Stephen Hawking told the guests of the Starmus science festival why humanity would need to take to space. It was one of the last public speeches of the renowned scientist. Thanks to the support of Kaspersky Lab, the festival was broadcasted online, so we have the opportunity to reiterate the “guidelines” to space colonization, which the Great Hawking left to humanity as his legacy.

In 2016, the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) caught the first distinguishable echoes of gravitational waves which resulted from the collision of black holes about 1,5 billion years ago.

This was an amazing technological breakthrough in the study of the universe, although our imagination is still the most powerful tool. It allows us to travel to almost any point in space and time.

And then we are faced with the inevitable question: If our imagination, helped by all the tools available to us today, can cross the universe, making discoveries along the way, why go anywhere for real? Should we be content to be cosmic sloths, enjoying the universe from the comfort of Earth?

The answer is no.

We have at least three important reasons to go beyond Earth:

Reason №1
The Earth is becoming too small for us.

We have given our planet the disastrous gift of climate change, rising temperatures, the reduction of the polar ice caps, deforestation and decimation of animal species. When we reached similar crises in our history, there were other places we could colonize. Columbus did it in 1492 when he discovered the New World. But there is no New World. No utopia around the corner. We are running out of space and the only place we have to go is to other worlds. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth.

Reason №2
The Universe is a violent place.

Stars engulf planets, supernovae fire lethal rays across space, black holes bump into each other and asteroids hurtle around at hundreds of miles a second. Granted, these phenomena do not make space sound very inviting, but these are the very reasons why we should venture into space instead of staying put, because if we wait long enough, they will reach us. This is not science-fiction, this is guaranteed by the laws of physics and probability. To stay risks being annihilated.

Reason №3
We are by nature explorers.

Motivation by curiosity is a uniquely human quality. It is this driven curiosity that sent the explorers to prove that the Earth was not flat. We need to rekindle the excitement of the early days of space travel in the 1960s. The necessary technology is almost within our grasp. We just need to reach for it.

The path to space will completely change the future of mankind. I hope it will unite competitive nations in a single goal to face a common challenge for us all.

It will not be easy. Wherever we go, we will have to rebuild civilization. We would have to take the practical means of establishing a whole new ecosystem that could survive in an environment we know very little about. We would, of course, need to consider transporting several thousands of people, animals, plants, fungi, bacteria and insects.

The most obvious destination is the Moon. We could have a base there in the next 30 years.
Stephen Hawking
an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist

It is close by and relatively easy to reach. We have already landed on it and driven across it in a buggy. On the other hand, the Moon is small and without an atmosphere. It does not have a magnetic field, which is necessary to deflect radioactive solar particles, as on Earth. But the Moon could be a base for travel to the rest of the solar system.

Mars is the next most obvious site and we could reach it in the next 50 years. It once had a magnetic field, but it decayed four billion years ago, leaving Mars without protection from solar radiation. This stripped Mars of most of its atmosphere, leaving it with only 1% of the pressure of the Earth’s atmosphere. But there is frozen water.

The Moon and Mars have potential. But what about boldly going beyond the solar system?

Take the planet Proxima b, for example. This exoplanet which is the closest to Earth, but still 4.5 light years away, orbits the star Proxima Centauri. Recent research indicates that it has some similarities to Earth.

At a distance of 30 light years from Earth there are about a thousand stars. If at least 1% of them have Earth-sized planets, then we already have 10 candidates to become new worlds. Travelling to them isn’t possible with today’s technology. But by using our imagination, we could make interstellar travel a long-term aim in - the next 200-500 years.

According to NASA, it would take us as little as 260 days to reach Mars. But it would take 3 million years to get to the next star system.

In fact, the distance to Alpha Centauri is so great that to reach it in a human lifetime a spacecraft would have to carry fuel with roughly the mass of all the stars of the galaxy.

In other words, with current technology, interstellar travel is utterly impractical. But to ensure the future of mankind, we must go beyond Earth.

Are there aliens out there or are we alone in the universe? My advice to you is to be careful if you meet an alien. You won’t know where it has been.

The probability of primitive life on the nearest planets is very low. If the probability of primitive life is reasonably high, then the probability of that life developing intelligence like ours may also be very low. It could be that alien life did develop into a fully functioning civilization, but then it may have destroyed itself with war, disease and weapons of mass destruction.

In this regard, it seems likely that primitive life is relatively common, but that intelligent life is rare. Some would say it has yet to occur on Earth.

Recent experience (with the International Space Station) shows that it is possible for human beings to survive for many months away from Earth. However, the zero gravity of orbit causes a number of undesirable physical changes such as weakening of the bones, muscle atrophy and other adverse conditions. Remember: this is a one-way journey. There is no returning to Earth after a few months or years.

We are standing on the threshold of a new era. Human colonization on other planets is no longer science fiction. It could be science fact. And if we want to survive, our future lies in boldly going where no one has gone before.

I hope for the best. I have to. We have no other option.