Home in space

FOR far too long, the scientific community has been ringing alarm bells about how this planet we call home is bursting at the seams, and may not withstand any more abuse. However, apart from occasional noises and token efforts to show our concern, most of us have turned our collective deaf ears to such warnings.

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Published: Fri 16 Jun 2006, 11:05 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:13 PM

But when the world renowned astrophysicist and one of the most influential thinkers of our time, Stephen Hawking, himself issues a warning then it may be time to sit up and listen. The celebrated author of such seminal books as A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell has argued that the survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there is an increasing risk that a disaster will wipe out the life on the Earth. "It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," emphasises Hawking.

Well, this is not the first time Hawking has called for exploration of space for alternate home for the mankind. In 2001, he had warned that a manmade disaster or virus could destroy mankind before the end of the millennium. Of late, however, there has been a compelling urgency in the physicist’s arguments, may be because of the series of natural disasters that have struck the planet during the past few years.

Granted that humans could have a permanent base on the moon and a colony on Mars soon, in a matter of mere decades, is no longer the stuff that science fiction is made of, one wonders if Man’s time on the earth is really up. His qualifying parenthetical clause that if humans can avoid killing themselves in the next 100 years, they should have space settlements that can continue without support from Earth, is even more intriguing. When Hawking spoke of disasters, he was not merely thinking of natural calamities such as tsunamis that could sweep away civilisations in their wake, but was clearly referring to self-inflicted wounds like the ravages of a nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, global warming or other unknown lurking dangers.

Since humanity has found this cosy home on the third rock from the sun, it has been rather difficult to imagine life, as we understand it, elsewhere. But it is probably time to take the suggestion made by the wheel-chair bound scientist a bit more seriously and seek new habitable abodes in space, or find a place and make it habitable. It may be time to stir up a new primordial soup. Besides, even if other planets are not able to support life, it is not easy on this one, either.

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