Monday, April 21, 2008

Stephen Hawking's Lecture

Today, I attended one of those memorable once-in-a-lifetime events- Prof. Stephen Hawking's lecture titled "Why We Should Go Into Space" to commemorate NASA's 50th birthday! It was organized by NASA and co-sponsored by Lockheed Martin and our very own Space Policy Institute ( at the Media & Public Affairs building on GW campus. Dr. John Logsdon opened the proceedings followed by Dr.Steven Knapp, President, GWU.

After introductory remarks, Prof. Stephen Hawking came on stage and gave his lecture. It was interspersed by his daughter, Lucy Hawking's speech on "The Importance of Science Education". Together, they wrote a children's book titled "George's Secret Key to the Universe", to explain physics, time, planets and black-holes, in other words- the universe, to not only educate and entertain children, but also to raise their curiosity and interest in the sciences.

Dr.Hawking contrasted the funding for NASA back in 1960s to present day and concluded the 'huge' increase needed to fund manned or 'personned' mission to the Moon, Mars and Titan (Saturn's moon) would only be a half-a-percent increase in the global GDP- worth our future survival! He compared space exploration to Columbus's expedition and suggested the skepticism in both cases was similar and somewhat unfounded, considering the potential benefits.

The reason for aliens not getting in touch with us, he postulated, was due to three possibilities - a) low probability of life in general or b) low probability of intelligent life (intelligence does not necessarily provide a survival advantage, ex: bacteria & viruses) or c) high probability of primitive life (not intelligent enough).

Earth's distance from the sun has made it ripe for life, but since the rate of human development has been steadily increasing over the past 10,000 years, Prof. Hawking concludes that now is the time to go where no one has gone before!

Following the talk was a reception and I found myself standing close to Prof. Hawking and it was a humbling experience- a frail man with a beautiful mind!

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