Acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking called for renewed interest in the study of outer space and science, in a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of NASA at the Jack Morton Auditorium on Monday.
The Cambridge University professor and renowned author said society is increasingly regulated by science and technology, but few students are pursuing scientif careers in science. He said that a greater interest and technology could lead to significant advances in areas of study such as outer space.
Video: Hawking Gives Lecture at GW
“The situation is like Europe before 1492,” Hawking said. “People might well have argued that it was a waste of money to send (Christopher) Columbus on a wild goose chase, yet the discovery of the new world made profound difference to the old. Just think, we would not have a Big Mac or KFC.”
Hawking, 66, suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease and is almost completely paralyzed. He delivered his 30-minute speech to members of NASA, Lockheed Martin and the media through a voice simulator, which he operates by moving his right cheek muscle.
The scientist has made significant contributions in the study of black holes, cosmology and quantum gravity. Last April, he took a zero-gravity flight into space, becoming the first quadriplegic to float in a weightless state.
“(Space travel) will not solve any of our immediate problems on planet Earth . it will give us a new perspective on them,” Hawking said.
He added, “It will completely change the future of the human race and maybe determine whether we have any future at all.”
Money must continue to be spent on space travel and should not be considered a “fruitless search for a new planet,” he said.
Daughter Lucy Hawking said she is concerned about the apathy young people have toward space travel and the ignorance that it breeds. One-third of British children thought Winston Churchill was the first man to walk on the moon and 48 percent of children in the United Kingdom believed Mars was only a chocolate bar, she said.
Stephen and Lucy Hawking co-authored a children’s book, “George’s Secret Key to the Universe,” which was published last fall. The characters travel to other planets and a black hole using a supercomputer.
“Space has the power to capture children’s imagination . (but) space dreams aren’t limited to science fiction,” she said of the book. “Because of NASA, we can show kids what our planet looks like from space . and we need to make it clear to them that they need to look after it.”
Hawking also joked that UFO visits to Earth are unlikely to help the study of outer space and told the audience to be wary of aliens.
“I am discounting reports of aliens,” he joked. “Why would they only show themselves to weirdos? An insurance policy for an abduction seems like a safe bet.”