TORONTO - Stephen Hawking says the colonization of outer space is key to the survival of humankind, predicting it will be difficult for the world's inhabitants "to avoid disaster in the next hundred years."
The renowned astrophysicist explores some of the most remarkable advancements in technology and health with the new U.K.-Canadian series "Brave New World With Stephen Hawking," debuting Saturday on Discovery World HD.
Before its premiere, he discussed the earth's most pressing concerns in an email interview with The Canadian Press from Cambridge, England, declaring space exploration to be humankind's most urgent mission.
"We are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history," said Hawking, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, leaving him almost completely paralyzed and unable to speak.
"Our population and our use of the finite resources of planet Earth are growing exponentially, along with our technical ability to change the environment for good or ill. But our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million.
"Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space."
Hawking said this is why he favours manned — or as he puts it, "personed" — space flight and encourages further study into how to make space colonization possible.
Hawking's five-part TV series touches on that theme, while putting the spotlight on scientific breakthroughs that promise to transform the 21st century. He introduces each episode while a team of experts travel the globe to delve deeper into various innovations.
The experts themselves represent a wide range of disciplines — they include naturalist Sir David Attenborough, author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, biologist and broadcaster Aarathi Prasad, and Canadian astronaut and neurologist Roberta Bondar.
More Canadian content comes by way of a segment set at the SNOLAB in Sudbury, Ont., an underground science lab specializing in neutrino and dark matter physics.
By email, Hawking says he's excited by work underway at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ont., which he visited in June 2010 and was named its first distinguished research chair.
"Perimeter is a grand experiment in theoretical physics and the institute's twin focus, on quantum theory and gravity, is very close to my heart and central to explaining the origin of the universe," said Hawking, also director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University.
"I am hoping, and expecting, great things will happen there. And I hope to visit again soon."
In September, the institute expanded with a new wing called the Stephen Hawking Centre but the cosmologist was unable to attend in person and sent his regards by video.
Marvels featured in his new TV series include a computer in Switzerland that is powered by the brain, a driverless car that is smart enough to navigate the crooked streets of San Francisco and a baby-like robot in Italy that learns like a child.
Later episodes investigate the way brain disorders could be treated using laser light and genetically modified brain cells, how mobile phones can give experts access to our every habit and action and lasers that print objects in 3D.
"I have so much I want to do," Hawking says of his boundless curiosity about the world. "There are so many questions still to answer."
"Brave New World With Stephen Hawking" debuts Saturday on Discovery World HD.
So, we need to get off the earth, like yesterday. What are the options?
It may be worth a mass movement to the Red Planet if only to see the look on the faces of the locals who have been supposedly coming to own us for the last century or so. Earth attacks! However, the giddiness of wiping them out will wear off in a hurry once we realize that we're stuck on MARS. Relentlessly red. Soul-suckingly dry and packing the kind of atmosphere that could turn Arnold Schwarzenegger inside out.
You know if it was that easy, there would be a Disneyland on the moon by now. But, despite its proximity, the Earth's moon just doesn't have much going for it as a potential colony. Nevermind the lack of any kind of atmosphere. The moon just isn't nearly big enough. Its surface area is about equal to Canada, Russia and the U.S. combined. Even if we did manage to build enough 10-billion-storey condos, it's hard to imagine we'd be very happy on our little rock, staring up at our blue-white-and-dreamy old address. You know, the one we trashed.
Of Jupiter's myriad moons, the most likely venue for Earthlings is probably Europa. We still don't know much about the place, but we do know it's got some kind of atmosphere -- and there's a good chance there's oxygen in it. What's more, it's looking increasingly likely that there's water - at least in frozen form. Oxygen and water - two good starts for any discussion on hosting humans. Trouble is, we still don't know enough about the place to justify sending the fleet out. It took the New Horizons spacecraft 13 months to get to Jupiter. That's a lot of 'Are we there yets' from the human race grumbling from the back of the space camper. There's a good chance the long-suffering pilot will hit the JETTISON CARGO button long before we get there.
The good news: This venue's got some serious capacity. About three times the size of Earth, Gliese 581 can host any kind of party. And once we're there, we can keep partying and overpopulating for many more generations. The bad news? The planet is locked to its star, meaning one side of it is forever plunged in darkness. That's where the evil alien vampires live.