Famous physicist, Stephen Hawking is collaborating with NASA to create a spacecraft that will be capable of traveling to a neighboring Earth-like planet within a time span of 20 years.
Physicist Stephen Hawking is collaborating with Russian entrepreneur and fellow physicist Yuri Milner, NASA and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to create a spacecraft capable of reaching our closest Earth-like planet in a travel time of 20 years.
Breakthrough Starshot is a nano-spaceship which Hawking proposes will travel 60,000km per second. This means that it could reach Mars in merely an hour, or Pluto in a few days. In order to achieve this feat, the spaceship would be tiny, around the size of a postage stamp. It would contain computer chips which would transmit information back to earth for scientists to analyze.
Earthbound lasers would propel the tiny spacecraft, which would be assisted by a kite-like structure only a few atoms thick. The technology on board the nano-spacecraft would be capable of testing for organic material and magnetic fields. It would then return the information to earth.
Troubleshooting a tiny spacecraft
Hawking and Milner have brought together a large panel of elite experts. These experts will work through all the potential problems that could arise with such a project. These include NASA’s Ames Research Centre’s former director Pete Worden, Avi Loeb who is a notable Harvard astronomer, and Saul Perlmutter, who won a Nobel price for astronomy.
There are 18 “key challenges” which hold back the mission currently. One challenge includes figuring out how to avoid damage to the probe during the journey. Heat from radiation could create large problems. However, Jin-Woo Han from NASA believes there are already solutions. Similar technology is utilized to protect flash memory, which could they could apply to the probe.
Most amazingly, the cost of the actual craft would be less than that of a smartphone.
It will contain microscopic features such as communication equipment, navigation technology, a sub-gram scale two-megapixel camera as well as a power supply and photon thrusters.
Once all the problems are resolved, NASA hopes to launch the nano-spacecraft towards Proxima b, which orbits our Sun’s nearest neighboring star Proxima Centauri. Proxima b exists within the famed “Goldilocks zone.” This means that scientists predict that this planet would potentially be cool enough for water to exist in fluid form, which means that life could conceivably exist there.
Hawking’s bleak outlook for humankind
Hawking believes that humanity will destroy itself within the next 100 years. He believes that the damage of climate change and disease will annihilate us, and we need to colonize either Mars or other potential Earth-like planets as soon as possible.
The Cambridge Professor proposed four clear goals. He believes that humanity must strive towards these if we wish to protect the human species from destruction.
1. Reduce spaceflight costs dramatically
2. Create new technologies which will enable us to travel at greater speed and greater distances into space.
3. Concentrate on researching other habitable planets.
4. Develop strategies for survival on inhospitable planets that could potentially support life.
Hawking has many supporters with similar ideas. Richard Branson and Elon Musk have also invested millions into spaceflight technologies. These billionaires share the same fears for the future of humanity. In fact, Musk is busy pushing forward with the plan to ultimately colonize Mars.
Nevertheless, is this all just an example of humans trying to run away from their problems? If we don’t solve the problems that have led to humanity’s downfall, surely we will just take those problems with us to the new frontiers we wish to colonize?
After all, negative human character traits such as greed, lust and the desire for power cannot be magically removed from a person by simply transporting them to live on the moon, Mars, or Proxima b.