Stephen W. Hawking 1942-2018
Renowned theoretical physicist, explorer of the universe, and symbol of human fortitude and perseverance, Stephen William Hawking died on March 14 at the age of 76. Best known for his creative brilliance searching for a theory of everything, since his early 20s Hawking suffered from the debilitating disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which typically claimed lives quickly. Hawking’s triumph over his personal circumstance, living as long as he did, coupled with his revelations about the world he lived in, mark the man for history.
In striking coincidences, Hawking was born exactly 300 years to the day of Galileo’s death and died on the anniversary of Einstein’s birth. And just as it was Galileo who experimented with gravitational physics, and Einstein who created new theories of gravity and the atom, Hawking devoted much of his energies to link them into a unified theory. He did this by thinking about what a black hole would look like and how it would behave if it were the size of an atom.
Hawking eagerly shared his brilliance with the world through a series of very accessible popular books. In so doing, he greatly enriched our fascination with the ultimate questions about why the universe is the way it appears to be and why we exist in it. It is for the future to tell if his questions will lead to answers, but, thanks to Hawking, the journey will certainly be very stimulating.
In the spring of 2007, just as he was preparing to experience zero-g from an airplane, Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine asked Hawking why he wanted to do it. Hawking bluntly answered, “I think the human race doesn’t have a future if it doesn’t go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space. A zero-gravity flight is the first step towards space travel.”