Acclaimed British scientist Stephen Hawking has issued an urgent call for the continuation of space exploration programs. According to Hawking, if humans don't find somewhere beyond Earth to live within the next millennium, our entire species could very well become extinct. "We must continue to go into space for humanity," Hawking recently said at an event at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Hawking, who has been a long-time proponent of space exploration, believes that the planet Earth is becoming too fragile to continue to support human life. In 2011, he told The Winnipeg Free Press, "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." Hawking added, "our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space."
Unfortunately, space exploration has recently been put on the back-burner in many countries due to the global financial crisis that has resulted in major spending cuts. NASA’s own budget for planetary science was cut by $300 million just this year. However, exploration will and must continue, especially considering Hawking’s dire prediction. NASA’s Kepler mission, for example, has been discovering scores of potentially habitable planets. And with new technology, such as fusion-powered rockets, the journey to those planets could be possible in hundreds of years, or sooner. It’s what we do today that will get us there: let’s continue to look to the stars.