Stephen Hawking is making big news today. Teaming up with Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, the famous astrophysicist announced the official launch of Starshot today, a space exploration initiative centered around a postage-stamp sized satellite called StarChip designed to ‘listen’ for alien life. The effort seeks to send these tiny satellites all the way to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to the Solar System – a mere 4.3 light years away from Earth.

Yuri Milner, whose net worth is estimated at $2.9 billion, has already pledged $100 million to his own Breakthrough Initiatives program, which rewards discoveries in science – especially where aliens are concerned. Milner’s link to space exploration runs deep. He was named after Yuri Gagarin, who embarked on the first human journey into outer space 55 years ago on this date, April 12. By teaming up with Hawking, Milner hopes to make his dream of laser-powered satellites come true. The tiny satellite technology is just one half of the equation. The other is an ultra-lightweight lightsail, similar to the concept developed by Carl Sagan and advanced recently by Bill Nye (yep, that science guy).

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The ultimate aim is to explore Alpha Centauri. The combined effort, called Breakthrough Starshot, is an inspirational attempt to learn more about what is ‘out there’ in order to better understand what we have here on Earth. Hawking said he believes a mission to Alpha Centauri could happen in as little as one generation. Acknowledging that many people will find the plan beyond ambitious, Hawking said it is human nature to set seemingly impossible goals.

“I believe what makes us unique is transcending our limits. Gravity pins us to the ground, but I just flew to America. I lost my voice, but I can still speak thanks to my voice synthesizer,” Hawking said. “How do we transcend these limits? With our minds and our machines. The limit that confronts us now is the great void between us and the stars. But now we can transcend it with light beams, lightsails, and the lightest spacecraft every built… Today we commit to this next great leap into the cosmos, because we are human and our nature is to fly.”

Via Newsweek

Images via Wikipedia