How Did Stephen Hawking Overcome His Challenges

How Did Stephen Hawking Overcome His Challenges – Stephen Hawking’s plan for interstellar travel has some earthly obstacles: The two-way theoretical physicist is part of a team that wants to send postage stamp-sized probes to our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. But can they get the right permits?

Stephen Hawking speaks about the “Breakthrough Starshot” space exploration initiative during a press conference Tuesday at One World Observatory in New York. Brian Bedder/Getty Images for the Breakthrough Prize Foundation hide caption

How Did Stephen Hawking Overcome His Challenges

Stephen Hawking speaks about the “Breakthrough Starshot” space exploration initiative during a press conference Tuesday at One World Observatory in New York.

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On Tuesday, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced a plan to send interstellar probes to the Alpha Centauri star system. The audacious project would use a giant laser on Earth to accelerate many postage stamp-sized spacecraft to the speed of light. They would cross the gap in just 20 years—virtually no time on the scale of interstellar travel.

The plan for “Breakthrough Starshot” outlined at the press conference looks both ambitious and exciting. But if it’s really going to work, there are more down-to-earth issues that these would-be stars have to overcome.

Starshot’s tiny probes are meant to return the high pressure of a giant 100-gigawatt laser back to Earth.

The powerful laser can also fry everything in its path, including orbiting satellites. “If someone says, ‘Hey, look, I’m worried you’re hitting a potential satellite,'” says Pete Warden, project manager. “We don’t shoot when it’s on the road.”

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Worden admits that the people of Earth are unlikely to take Project Starshot at its word. “We expect there will be international agreements to regulate it,” he says. The team will work with all countries to get the necessary permits in order.

When hundreds or thousands of probes leave our solar system, they would be alone in more ways than one. Physics dictates that communication between Earth and probes cannot occur faster than the speed of light. This means that if one of the probes has trouble a light year into the journey, it will take a year for the distress call to reach home. It would take a year for mission control instructions to reach the small craft.

It’s safe to say that in the two years it takes to get help, the probe will either repair itself or die.

Milner, a Russian entrepreneur, invested $100 million of his own money in the project. It sounds impressive, but in the space business it’s peanuts. The New Horizons probe that flew by Pluto last year cost $722 million. Pluto is 3 billion miles from Earth. Alpha Centauri is 25 trillion miles away. In other words, getting 0.012 percent of the way to Alpha Centauri cost seven times more than this week’s promised funding.

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“Starchip” would be the size of a postage stamp, says Yuri Milner, and the sail would be about a meter in diameter. Penetration initiatives hide the caption

“Starchip” would be the size of a postage stamp, says Yuri Milner, and the sail would be about a meter in diameter.

So far, humanity has managed to send only one spacecraft into interstellar space: the Voyager 1 probe, which was launched in 1977. During the time it took to get there, many scientists and engineers involved in the program moved on, retired or died. While Starshot hopes to travel in two decades, Milner admits it will take “a generation” to prepare for the trip. Keeping the workforce up and running for that long, and ensuring that key knowledge about a complex project isn’t lost along the way, can be the last frontier – for the HR department.

Experts agree that there is no proven technology that would allow something the size of a postage stamp (or even a cell phone) to send a signal across trillions of miles of interstellar space. Figuring out how to do this is the top technical priority for the Starshot team, and perhaps the most important challenge.

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Without a reliable way to send images and data home, the entire mission could end in failure, warns Bruce Betts, director of science and technology for the Planetary Society. “If you could fly into the forest, and see a tree fall, but you couldn’t tell anyone, would it really matter?” British physicist Stephen Hawking, who was 21 years old, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lu Gehrig’s disease. While A.L.S. is usually fatal within five years, Dr. Hawking lived and flourished, producing some of the most important cosmological research of his time.

In the 1960s, together with Sir Roger Penrose, he used mathematics to explain the properties of black holes. In 1973 he applied Einstein’s general theory of relativity to the principles of quantum mechanics. And he showed that black holes are not completely black, but can leak radiation and eventually explode and disappear, a discovery that still reverberates through physics and cosmology.

In 1988, Dr. Hawking tried to explain what he knew about the limits of the universe to the layman in “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes.” The book sold more than 10 million copies and was on the bestseller lists for more than two years.

Today, at age 69, Dr. Hawking is one of the longest-living survivors of A.L.S., and perhaps the most inspiring. Mostly paralyzed, he can only speak through a computerized voice simulator.

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On the screen attached to his wheelchair, simple words flash past him. The cheek muscle gives a signal to the electronic sensor in the glasses to transmit instructions to the computer. In this way he slowly builds sentences; the computer transforms them into the metallic, otherworldly voice known to legions of fans of dr. Hawking.

It is an exhausting and time-consuming process. Yet it is in this way that he keeps in touch with the world, conducting research at the Center for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, writing prolifically for both specialists and generalists, and lecturing to enthusiastic audiences from France to Fiji.

Dr. Hawking came here last month at the invitation of a friend, the cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, for a science festival sponsored by the Origins Project at Arizona State University. His talk, “My Brief History,” wasn’t all about quarks and black holes. At one point he spoke of the special joys of scientific discovery.

“I wouldn’t compare it to sex,” he said in his computerized voice, “but it lasts longer.” The crowd roared.

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The next afternoon, Dr. Hawking sat down with me for a rare interview. Well, a sort of interview, actually.

Ten questions were sent to his daughter Lucy Hocking, 40, a week before the meeting. In order not to exhaust her father, who was weakened by a near-fatal illness two years ago, Hawking read them to him for several days.

During our meeting, the physicist reproduced his answers. Only one exchange, the last one, was spontaneous. Despite the restrictions, Dr. Hawking wanted to be interviewed in person rather than via email.

A little background on the second question, the one about aliens. Last year, Lucy Hawking was the Writer in Residence for the Origins Project at Arizona State University. As part of her work, she and Paul Davis, a physicist at Arizona State, launched the “Dear Aliens” contest, inviting students in Phoenix to write essays about what they might say to aliens trying to contact planet Earth.

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P. Dr. Hawking, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with Science Times. I’m wondering, what’s a typical day like for you?

A: I get up early every morning and go to my office where I work with my colleagues and students at the University of Cambridge. With the help of e-mail, I can communicate with researchers all over the world.

Due to my disability, I obviously need help. But I always tried to overcome the limitations of my condition and live life to the fullest. I’ve traveled the world, from Antarctica to zero gravity.

Questions. Speaking of space: Earlier this week, your daughter, Lucy, and Paul Davis, a physicist at Arizona State University, sent a message into space from Arizona students to potential aliens in space. You’ve said elsewhere that you think it’s a bad idea for humans to come into contact with other life forms. Given this, did you suggest that Lucy not do this? Hypothetically, let’s say as a fantasy, if you sent such a message into space, how would it be read?

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A: I have said in the past that it would be a bad idea to contact aliens because they may be so advanced compared to us that our civilization may not survive the experience. The “Dear Aliens” competition is based on a different premise.

It is assumed that an intelligent alien life form has already contacted us and that we must formulate a response. The competition asks school-age students to think creatively and scientifically to find a way to explain human life in this way

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