Stephen Hawking: “The best we can envisage is robotic nanocraft pushed by giant lasers to 20% of the speed of light. These nanocraft weigh a few grams and would take about 240 years to reach their destination and send pictures back. It is feasible and is something that I am very excited about.”

Stephen Hawking: “The best we can envisage is robotic nanocraft pushed by giant lasers to 20% of ...

This is the Breakthrough Starshot mission. It's already being worked on.

Breakthrough Starshot, announced April 12, 2016, is a US$100 million program to develop a proof-of-concept light sail spacecraft fleet capable of making the journey to Alpha Centauri at 20% the speed of light (60,000 km/s or 215 million km/h) taking about 20 years to get there, and about 4 years to notify Earth of a successful arrival.

The Starshot concept envisions launching a "mothership" carrying about a thousand tiny spacecraft (on the scale of centimeters) to a high-altitude orbit and then deploying them. Ground-based lasers would then focus a light beam on the craft's solar sails to accelerate them one by one to the target speed within 10 minutes, with an average acceleration on the order of 100 km/s2, and an illumination energy on the order of 1 TJ delivered to each sail, estimated to have a surface area of 4 m × 4 m.

Appears to be a lot of people here who think he 'lacks imagination', or is 'old guard' simply because he is being realistic. I suggest you set realistic expectations informed by physicists like Hawking instead of basing your expectations on sensationalists headlines from crappy newspapers.

There are reasons why he suggests low mass, automated space craft. It's because they are more affordable in a world that doesn't have infinite budgets. There are also reasons why such a mission would take so long, such as the limits of our technology and what is actually realistically possible, in this physical world.

I can imagine this little Pixar-esque nanocraft broadcasting back incredulous photographs of lush exotic paradisic planets back to a planet with no inhabitants and nothing but a nuke roasted graveyard ghost version of Earth.

This should be much higher on this thread. This is the max our technology can bring us right now. Pretty impressive considering it can/wI'll be done within this generations lifetime.

At 20% light speed, the nearest stars about 4 LY away would take about 20 years to get to. Of course the data they send back travels at light speed and takes 4 years to come back.

The 240 number works for the Trappist-1 system, which is ~40 LY away, which is what Hawking was referencing.

So 24 years, not 240...

Reading your comment gave me an image of aliens, watching out of the window as humans chug along through space by blowing up bombs behind us. I feel like they would say:

"Really? Really?! WTF is wrong with this planet..."

NASA is already working on developing such laser drives. They and

nuclear pulse propulsion are the only current space propulsion technologies that could make interstellar travel truely possible.

He didn't say it was the only key point. Everyone has to bend over backwards to be the smartest person in the room, I can't stand it.

They key point that I think many people are missing is that you can fit 10,000s of these little buggers into a single rocket, and them send them out in all directions.

I don't think ppl grasp how fast you'll be traveling at 20% of the speed of light...

Aha. So on other words, this is proof that Hawking's voice is an AI that plans to outlive us all...

Just to be clear, laser drives are effective for smaller, non manned craft (the amount of power needed to drive an interstellar ship with laser sails would be astronomical).

Nuclear propulsion consists of releasing relatively small nuclear 'bomb' pellets behind the ship, with explosive yields in the kiloton to lower megaton range (the needed warhead size is proportional to the mass of the ship). They are detonated at a precise distance away from a large steel plate, at a position that allows the shock wave created to hit the large plate surface area, and be absorbed over a slower period of time using shock absorbers, analogous to how your car or mountain bike dampen hard shocks from terrain.

It sounds like science fiction, but plausible blueprints and calculations were made that could have enabled the creation of multi-million ton nuclear propelled ships as far back as the late 1950's. To avoid covering the earth in radiation, it would need to lifted into space in pieces, and be assembled in orbit. Although incredibly expensive, as reusable heavy lifting rockets become more available and economical, a ship of this design could be feasible in a generation or two.

Welcome to Reddit! Where the smartest guy is always the next comment.

That isn't the key point.

No politician or government will risk hundreds of billions without having data to show that such ventures can be rewarding. Launch costs are small fry compared to the money needed just for research into half of what this sub upvotes.

This relatively small investment is the only way to start getting investment for anything larger, and the smaller investment also means it is less likely to get cancelled as administrations/priorities change.

Realistically, the only way to get results in a human time frame is to build an epic telescope on the moon, something 2km across..that would be enough to pick out the planet optically.

I'm not really invested in the next 24 hours myself....

the moon world theme park we'd build around it.

That would be a consideration for large-scale ships. For these little things, I think we would just send a thousand, and hope there isn't that much dust between here and there.

And what happens when you hit a speck of dust at that speed. Not pretty. Space is mostly a vacuum but it's not a perfect vacuum.

here's an interesting creepy pasta based off that thought

I think one of the major innovations humanity needs is a massive extension to the average human lifespan, which would expand our species attention span and allow us to "care" more about advancements like this.

TRAPPIST-1 is 40 ly years away but there are closer targets. The obvious one is Proxima Centauri b at a distance of 4.2 light years. There's also a super-Earth in the habitable zone of Luyten's star (12 ly), published just last week.

So there's plenty of potential targets and we are likely to discover more in the next few decades.

Context from the article:

When asked whether he thought the Nasa space programme should be restarted following the discovery of new planets, Hawking said: “The recently discovered system of seven Earth-sized planets is 39 light years away. With current technology there is no way we can travel that far. The best we can envisage..."

He's saying if you want to do something about it right now that's the best he thinks we've come up with.

All the "Hawking has lost it" comments here don't seem to be aware of the question he was answering.

What if we get there and we find out Hawking's consciousness had manifested into some physical digital being and was waiting all along for us and rewards us with our next challenge?

we'll have uploaded our brains into machines and we'll just take the trip ourself in a proper craft powered by starlight

You're discussing how he's a theoretical physicist, and proceed to make the most outlandish theory to prove it.

"Sorry humanity! Your life forms are in another galaxy!"

You might have to.

A good question is "why don't we have 10,000 giant lasers?"

Everyone in this subreddit somehow thinks if we invest enough money our world will become like Futurama in their lifetimes.

People in this subreddit never seem to realise that the smartest guy is actually the comment after the next comment.

Thank you for this reply. It is really funny to me (and, honestly, scary because of the wildly unrealistic expectations of human technology) when people say something like: "He's a theoretical physicist with some celebrity points, not an astronautical engineer. I hope I never have to say this again, but Reddit is right on this one." Or "ITT: reddit knows more about the science of space travel than legendary professor and renowned genius Stephen Hawking " Seriously? Reddit knows more about space travel than Stephen Hawking? Or Listen to famed writer Kim Stanley Robinson: "Musk’s plan resembles my Mars Trilogy and earlier science fiction stories. What he proposed is not going to happen. It’s a fantasy." "Really, the timeline of terraforming Mars is on the scale of thousands of years."

EDIT: Apparently I don't know anything about Reddit. I must have been blinded thinking ITT was related to ITT Tech. Ignore my disdain for everyone here :D

He's a theoretical physicist with some celebrity points, not an astronautical engineer. I hope I never have to say this again, but Reddit is right on this one. By the time we can build indestructible nano cameras that can capture images at .2c and transmit those images back, we'll have uploaded our brains into machines and we'll just take the trip ourself in a proper craft powered by starlight

Edit: I guess my last sentence needed a /s

240 would be really pointless considering the comparable tech that would be available by then.

I'd watch that movie

We need to leave our shitty bodies behind and upload consciousness to machine based form. It's the only way

I upvote because it is hilariously naive and something I secretly believe.

What's that proverb about planting trees? Not for yourself, but so your descendants might have shade.

From what I recall, we'd be looking at using a magnetic field in front of the ship to repel small objects. Another possibility is using something like a ramjet to just collect the matter and use it as fuel.

Disclaimer: casual reader, not very knowledgeable on these subjects.

The "ITT:" thing looked like a joke and to be actually agreeing with you.

Does this mean that if we can travel at 20% light speed, the trip to Proxima Centauri b will only be 21 years?? That's actually achievable. We might get to see pictures of Proxima Centauri b in our lifetime!

TL;DR: Redditors are theoretical physicists who think Stephen Hawking is a chump.

Well, I'm flattered. Are you stalking me? I thought only my mom knew this.

We poison our air and water to weed out the weak! We set off fission bombs in our only biosphere! We nailed our god to a stick! Don't fuck with the human race!

--anonymous /tg/ poster

Or having 10,000 giant lasers.

What's 3/1?

But the far side of the moon is claimed already. And I wouldn't want paying nazi rent just to see some planets.

Do you really think we won't last 240years?

A degree grade in the UK.

Classification Mark Open University Mark Equivalent grade First class (1st) 70%+ 85%+ (OU) A Upper second class (2.1) 60-69% 70-85%+ (OU) B Lower second class (2.2) 50-59% 55-70% (OU) C Third class (3rd) 40-49% 40-55% (OU) D

This would actually be a relatively feasible idea, the moon is an unused space so it would disrupt anything, with technological advances in the space industry thanks to the one and only Elon musk, we'd be able to make a bunch of trips to get the equipment there, and then return trips for the people using it, assuming they don't opt to use it via microwaves or what ever. But you'd still need to have people to assemble it so at least 1 return trip would be needed.

It actually makes more sense kind of. In the American grading system we essentially write off the bottom 60%. And it gets worse, when my fiancee was in grad school anything lower than a B was considered not passing. I was just like "why don't they rebalance the grading system?" It's not like only the top 20% percent of the class were completing the program.

Wait... A 70% is an A?!

Its a bit like the..should I wait for the next console conundrum.

Except we won't have 10,000 giant lasers so the number would have to be far smaller.

edit: It's a good thing I had 10 people all correct me on the same thing since I didn't get it the first 9 times.

I assume (I don't know anything about this so don't quote me on it) that it will take some time to accelerate, also another 4.2 years for the information to come back to us.

And it's not like they're launching it tomorrow.

So... In 30 years?

Yeah who gives a damn. We should just be sending thermonuclear bombs to distant planets for shits and gigs millions of years later. It would be the ultimate long con troll from humanity.

Are you okay Slutty? Do you need someone to talk to?

I feel like it would be a terrible decision to send a generation ship somewhere without any idea of the circumstances on the ground of the place you are sending them to. Not even knowing if there is a habitable planet in the system you are headed towards? Sounds like you are murdering the children of those who decided to begin the journey.

I don't know if you're trying to sound like the smartest guy in the room, but I've got bad news for you... it's the guy after this comment.

I'm never leaving my brain dude. How do we know if that software copy of you is really you? I think when you teleport, you die.

Edit: the fundamental problem is that we don't know what consciousness is or how it works. It's something we all experience but cannot empirically define. So how can we speculate what process would or wouldn't destroy it?

That's truly fantastic. We would be scarier than Reavers.

I think the idea is that technology might advance at such an exponential rate that by the time a 240 year mission is even close to accomplishing anything useful, our descendants will have already developed something that can pass it and complete the entire mission in a fraction of the time.

Aiming for that nearby 4ly star would be more productive in the meantime, as a proof of concept. Kind of like how a mission to Mars would have been a terrible idea in the 60s and 70s, but the Moon was a more reasonable goal.

Wow, that was surprisingly awesome.

240 years is referring to the trappist-1 system. 24 years is referring to alpha centauri system

Not really, the whole point is that carrying fuel on a rocket is a massive barrier to top speed. You can only accelerate as long as you have fuel. In ordet to reach speeds in this high fraction of light speed you cannot carry your fuel with you as it increases weight and your maximum acceleration is reduced

Yeah, Hawking is just a pawn. His wheelchair is the real scientist.

It costs millions to launch a satellite which is around the size of a small car.

This guy's proposing a 2km across telescope and you think that's possible with 'a bunch of trips'

What would be the advantage of building it on the moon rather than in space?

24 years to Alpha Centauri, 240 to Trappist 1. Hawkins was talking about the latter.

Or wait 20 years for when we can get something there in 210 years, saving 10 years.


I think you may have confused this word for a synonym of "incredible".

It means you are in a state of not believing someone and has nothing to do with "incredible".

But you'd miss the finale

Because of budgets. This world is more worried about having money rather than working together for a common good.

I forgot the /s

240 years in the void without a body? Oh god!

The McCumdumpsters are an ancient and proud Scottish family.

He's tired of being used as a cum dumpster

Hawking said: “The recently discovered system of seven Earth-sized planets is 39 light years away. With current technology there is no way we can travel that far.

In the article, leading up to OPs quote. There was no typo.

At this speed, you'd go around the equator about 1.5 times every second.

Firefly. They're tearing people apart, sure, but they're not attempting interstellar travel by shitting out bombs or blasting space with high powered lasers. They're not particularly communicable, we are.

They're like rabies, we're like Spanish Flu.

our descendants will have already developed something that can pass it and complete the entire mission in a fraction of the time.

Yeah, but our decendants probably won't be able to do it any quicker than 5x as fast. :)

Yes, the shotgun scatter approach. If 20% or even less arrive, it would be a success.

What's interesting is that's correct. The end all be all of human evolution will end in us no longer being human. Nonbiological body is the only natural end state. Or at least we discover something along the lines of transcendence, pure energy and what not.

It actually makes significantly more sense sarcastically, I'll give you that.

No reason to hold back since you can use the new tech, too.

I'm game for that, just start mass launching millions of these nano crafts in every direction, and in 240 years, we'll have a relatively clear disk sphere of observation 80 light years in diameter.

Sending the info back would be an amazing feat.

Wouldn't pretty much anything just end up destroying the spacecraft though? And there would be a 48 year delay between any form of communication with it (if I did the math right). I feel like humans should go big or go home and just full on migrate from earth when the time comes

To me, space exploration is one of the key priorities in approaching a post scarcity society (the other being automation and AI). Earth's resources are finite, and as long as resources are finite there will be people to fight over and control them. The universe is effectively infinite, and by exploring we can find enough resources to render our current economy useless, as there is no more scarcity. In addition , space exploration provides prospects for the continuation and expansion of the human species, along with discoveries of new life. What do you think is a "common good"? I'm genuinely curious. I know this post may seem idealistic but idealism leads to new discoveries

... or, you know... one.

Imagine if a planet of aliens were watching it come for them, excited knowing it wasn't any object they had seen before, and they can tell it's directed straight for their home - only for it to blow them up when it arrives

Lots of Hawking hate going on. Finally read a comment that puts this in context.

Send space Mormons. They have faith.

UK degrees are harder

Math wrong. It's being accelerated to that speed for a portion of the journey. But let's say like 46 or 47 years :p

It also has no way to decelerate. I am unsure what kind of pictures an object moving at .2c can take but it's certainly a brief window.

I'm also very unsure about what kind of camera can be that small. This plan really doesn't seem close to happening.

No atmosphere or nearby light sources.

In reply to Robinson's point, Musk must A) embellish the grandiosity of the mission and B) isn't proposing that terraforming is going to happen overly quickly. The plan is to set up a colony, which doesn't necessitate that the atmosphere is breathable.

And it would have a big dickbutt spray painted on its side saying "we come in peace"

Yeah you are both right. 30 is more accurate. My main point is that we might get to see it in our lifetime!

That's why orbital assembly stations are the way of future for large scale space projects. Not that we're even relatively close to that, at least as far as funding for that research. Multiple rockets to deliver prefab parts seems feasible with current technology. Funding not included, unfortunately.

Survivors bias, if we hadn't survived then you couldn't even make that comment in the first place. We've only recently invented "world" destroying technology in retrospect to the amount of time human civilization ever existed.

It's a small planet, it only takes one meteor to wipe out the dinosaurs and a hundred other species into total extinction in retrospect.

Also people don't really adapt to the environment, it's more like the other way around.

The thing I don't understand about this is that in 120 years (half the time of the mission), isn't it likely that we'd have something invented that will be much faster and complex and make the original Nanocraft obsolete?

"ITT: reddit knows more about the science of space travel than legendary professor and renowned genius Stephen Hawking "


Obviously that was sarcasm

People here will nitpick every word in your comment and try to argue with it, as if we're all writing college essays and not casually commenting on a website.

The Earth has been through a lot and people have been smart enough to adapt to literally every environment so far, including space and the bottom of the ocean for short periods of time.

Wiping out humanity would be very, very difficult. Especially since we have a saved up a 90% surplus in population over the past few centuries.

Wipe out 7 billion and we're back to where we were just 500 years ago, but with a lot of new technology and scientific understanding.

People aren't going anywhere.

It was, I believe. People are bad at reading sarcasm into something in text on the internet without the /s.

My first read was /s.

Why does this say 24 years to receive pictures and Hawkings says 240 years is that a typo on one or the other?

Which one is it because 24 years gets me excited 240 does not get me excited at all.

Hello, I'm here to usurp the throne of smartest person in the room. Until someone comments after me, at least.

This is why asteroid mining is so important. Mine in zero g, refine in zero g, assemble in zero g, launch from zero g.

What kind of orbit catches 0.2c tiny thing?

While your statement is true. I don't understand how this would be any kind of priority of the "common good"

"Now.... DIE!!!!"

I hope we don't forget to set their cameras to sports mode.