This March commemorates the first year anniversary of one of the greatest scientists of the 21st century, Stephen Hawking. Well known for his work on black holes, Hawking transformed our understanding about the origins of the universe and was a best-selling author and pop culture icon with appearances in Star Trek, The Simpsons, Futurama and The Big Bang Theory.
Hawking suffered from ALS that gradually paralysed him over the course of his lifetime. He lost his ability to speak but was still able to communicate through a speech-generating device which he controlled initially through a hand-held switch but eventually via a single cheek muscle in his later years. Not succumbing to the despair of the disease, Hawking devoted his life to his work and his research and made several scientific discoveries; gaining him various notable honors including a CBE and the U.S Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In 2006, Hawking posed an open question on the Internet: “In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?”, later clarifying: “I don’t know the answer. That is why I asked the question, to get people to think about it, and to be aware of the dangers we now face”.
Later that year, Hawking revealed in a BBC interview the one of his greatest unfulfilled desires was to travel to space. On hearing this, Richard Branson offered a free flight into space with Virgin Galactic, which Hawking immediately accepted. On 26 April 2007, Hawking flew aboard a specially-modified Boeing 727–200 jet operated by Zero-G Corp off the coast of Florida to experience weightlessness. Hawking viewed spaceflight and the colonisation of space as necessary for the future of humanity; expressing concern that life on earth is at risk from a sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, global warming, asteroid collision and other dangers, humans have not thought of yet.
Hawking was born on 8 January 1942, on the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death and he died on 14 March 2018, on the anniversary of Einstein’s birth. His ashes were scattered at the Westminster Abbey’s nave, alongside the grave of Sir Isaac Newton and close to that of Charles Darwin. In spite of his condition which he suffered for more than 50 years, here was a man who achieved greatness. Stephen reminds us that true intelligence is the ability to adapt to change and we should always strive to reach for the stars.
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