Stephen Hawking: Space Is the Place?

By now, nearly everyone has heard the news that physicist Stephen Hawking is raising the alarm about global disaster from manmade environmental or nuclear causes. "It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," says Hawking, in the related Associated Press article. His message seems to be more one of not putting all our eggs in one basket in the face of near-inevitable catastrophe, rather than the more hopeful one of conservation and cleanup promoted by most environmentalists, but Hawking's interest in developing the technologies we'd need to colonize space stresses the same lessons that environmentalists learned from Biosphere II – that artificial environments are much more difficult to get right than we thought, and beyond our current capabilities. Perhaps the most obvious sign of how far our dreams of living space lie from the realities comes this week from New Zealand, where it is reported that the International Space Station, considered our best hope for colonizing Mars, has just dumped a capsule full of its trash into the Pacific Ocean to make room for new supplies. Perhaps a little down-to-earth conservation is more important to Hawking's future than it sounds. [Written by: Eva Jacobus]