Hawking’s future is Serenity not Star Trek

By Stan Beer,

As far as Hawking is concerned, planet earth one way or another will meet its destruction. The way forward, however, is not to go boldly forth and meet alien civilizations a la Star Trek.
In Hawking’s future, humans will become space pioneers who tame and inhabit suitable planets outside our solar system, much like the Firefly series which features a team of space rebels aboard the space ship Serenity who make a living trading contraband between the outer colonies of a loosely knit federation of planets.

There are no alien civilizations, just an authoritarian central government and no mention is made of what became of Earth other than it is where everything started. Oh yes, and everybody speaks both English and Chinese because the US and China were the two surviving superpowers.
Hawking has not said whether his vision is inspired by Firefly but the space ship Serenity doesn’t feature a faster than light warp drive, just plain old rocket propulsion. According to Hawking, if we can harness the power of anti-matter for our rocket propulsion, we could reach near light speeds, taking us to the nearest star system within six years. Hawking doesn’t say it but, according to Einstein, six years may seem like just six weeks to those on board the space ship because of the time contraction effects that occur at near light speeds.
What Hawking also doesn’t say is that the nearest star system probably doesn’t have any planets that can support human life. Earth is pretty special in that regard, so the nearest star system with inhabitable planets could be hundreds or thousands of years away even at near light speeds.
In the Firefly series, they solve that problem by turning uninhabitable planets into Earth clones using a process called terra forming. Unfortunately, at present, us humans can’t even keep our own atmosphere under control let alone tame the atmosphere of another planet.
Thus, for the time being at least, if we are to colonize another planet, we may have to content ourselves with a future more like that of Governor Arnie’s Total Recall, where humans live in domed cities on planets like Mars. First, however, we really should finish the international space station and hope like crazy that nuclear war doesn’t break out, a new ice age doesn’t sweep the planet or an asteroid doesn’t bring on an extinction level event.


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