Stephen Hawking says we should send humans back to the moon
The sophomore slump is a well known phenomenon – or well known enough to have its own Wikipedia page anyway. The idea is that the second effort doesn’t live up to the hype of the first: be it a TV series or a disappointing second album: like Second Coming by The Stone Roses.
Since landing humans on the moon in 1969, we haven’t landed humans on any other planets. NASA and SpaceX are gearing up for a human Mars mission, but there are plenty of problems to overcome. This is difficult second album syndrome – Mars could be NASA’s very own Second Coming.
There are people who just want NASA to keep playing the hits, and one prominent voice demanding a 50th anniversary collector’s edition is Stephen Hawking. Speaking at the Starmus Festival in Trondheim, Norway, Hawking made the case that humans should return to the moon by 2020.
“To leave Earth demands a concerted global approach, everyone should join in. We need to rekindle the excitement of the early days of space travel in the sixties,” the Cambridge physicist said.
But Hawking’s reasons for this are anything but a sense of nostalgia for the 1960s: it’s a profound belief that humans must leave the Earth or risk “being annihilated” as a species. “We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds. It is time to explore other solar systems. Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves. I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth,” he explained.
To that end, Hawking wants a lunar base in the next 30 years, and a manned mars mission within a decade. That proposed schedule is actually tighter than NASA’s own: Hawking proposes a Mars mission by 2025, which is similar to SpaceX’s ambitious estimates, but five years faster than the US space agency reckons feasible – and it’s worth mentioning that NASA’s own external panel thinks that the current 2030 schedule is something of a long shot at current funding levels. Still, at least the president shares Professor Hawking’s optimism.
Not that Hawking cares too much about what Trump thinks – in fact he couldn’t resist a dig in his comments about why humanity is in such trouble. “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen,” Hawking said.
Actually, in a world where international diplomacy is increasingly fractious, Hawking believes that a combined effort to leave the Earth could be just the ticket to bring us all together. “Spreading out into space will completely change the future of humanity,” he explained. “I hope it would unite competitive nations in a single goal, to face the common challenge for us all.”
It all sounds wonderfully optimistic, but Hawking has a unique gift in esconsing the most optimistic sentiments in a bubble of pessimism. Take his closing remarks: “If humanity is to continue for another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before. I hope for the best. I have to. We have no other option.”
I don’t know whether to be inspired or terrified.