Stephen Hawking Tells Explorers to 'Boldly Go' Beyond Earth

NEW YORK — Ambitious plans to carry humans far beyond Earth were at the forefront of the Explorers Club Annual Dinner here Saturday night, as astronauts, entrepreneurs and physicist Stephen Hawking celebrated the wonder — and necessity — of space exploration.

"Not to leave planet Earth would be like castaways on a desert island not trying to escape," Stephen Hawking said in his keynote address via telecast.

"Sending humans to other planets … will shape the future of the human race in ways we don't yet understand, and may determine whether we have any future at all," Hawking told the audience at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

"We have to boldly go where no one has gone before," Hawking said. He hailed the current era of spaceflight as the most exciting since the Apollo era — and fittingly, the gala honored today's pioneers in the field.

Elon Musk, who founded the spaceflight company SpaceX, took the stage to accept the Explorers Club President's Award for Exploration and Technology. "I think what we're doing is evolutionary, but not revolutionary," Musk said in his short speech. "What we really need is a fully reusable rocket system."

Former NASA astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, another honoree at the dinner, shares Musk's Martian aspirations. Chang-Diaz — who logged seven spaceflights in his career and now runs Ad Astra, a private rocket company in Houston — was one of two recipients of the Buzz Aldrin Quadrennial Space Award. (The other was planetary scientist Maria Zuber, who has helped map Mars and the moon.)

For decades, Chang-Diaz has been working on a plasma rocket called VASIMR, which theoretically could send astronauts to Mars in a speedy 39 days. founder Jeff Bezos accepted a Citation of Merit on behalf of the Apollo F-1 Engine Search and Recovery Team, which retrieved Saturn 5 first-stage rocket engine components from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. At least one of those parts, a thrust chamber, was linked to the Apollo 11 mission.

"It is hard to find something more profound as an engineered object than an F-1 engine. ... Sixty-five of these engines flew, and there were zero failures," Bezos said in a 10-minute video that had its premiere at the dinner.

— Megan Gannon,

This is a condensed version of a report from Read the full report as well as an item focusing on Bezos and the Apollo engine project. Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.