LONDON — Humans must colonize planets in other solar systems — traveling there using "Star Trek"-style propulsion — or face extinction, renowned British cosmologist Stephen Hawking said Thursday.
Referring to complex theories and the speed of light, Hawking, the wheelchair-using Cambridge University physicist, told BBC radio that theoretical advances could revolutionize the velocity of space travel and make such colonies possible.
"Sooner or later disasters such as an asteroid collision or a nuclear war could wipe us all out," said Professor Hawking, who was disabled by a muscle disease at the age of 21 and who speaks through a computerized voice synthesizer.
"But once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe," said Hawking, who received the world's oldest award for scientific achievement, the Copley Medal, from Britain's Royal Society on Thursday.
Previous winners include Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur and Capt. James Cook.
In order to survive, humanity would have to venture off to other hospitable planets orbiting another star, but conventional chemical fuel rockets that took man to the moon on the Apollo mission would take 50,000 years to travel there, he said.
Hawking, a 64-year-old father of three who rarely gives interviews and who wrote the best-selling "A Brief History of Time", suggested propulsion like that used by the fictional starship Enterprise "to boldly go where no man has gone before" could help solve the problem.
"Science fiction has developed the idea of warp drive, which takes you instantly to your destination," said. "Unfortunately, this would violate the scientific law, which says that nothing can travel faster than light."
Slideshow: Planetary pleasures However, by using "matter/antimatter annihilation," velocities just below the speed of light could be reached, making it possible to reach the next star in about six years.
"It wouldn't seem so long for those on board," he said.
The scientist revealed he also wanted to try out space travel himself, albeit by more conventional means.
"I am not afraid of death but I'm in no hurry to die. My next goal is to go into space," said Hawking.
And referring to the British entrepreneur and Virgin tycoon who has set up a travel agency to take private individuals on spaceflights beginning as early as 2008, Hawking said: "Maybe Richard Branson will help me."
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