I recently spent a lovely afternoon in a local independent cinema, in the company of Professor Stephen Hawking. Him on screen and me in the audience. He is an intellectual giant and has been partly responsible for bringing the universe ever closer to lay people like me. His book, A Brief History of Time, has sold a staggering 10 million copies. On watching his autobiographical documentary, something struck me. We were all too often reminded of the limitations of Professor Hawking's body, but never his mind or his spirit. Diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease at 21 and told he would likely live only a few more years, he went on to achieve true greatness in his field and still goes to work every day. At 71, he enjoys nothing more than supervising the next generation of cosmologists, who carry on his work, hoping to find the answers to some of our biggest questions. But what are the questions?
India's recent entry into the space programme is interesting. There are convincing arguments for science and progress but I wonder how we feel about a country who receive international aid and spend money on space travel, when a huge percentage of their population have neither electricity nor a private toilet. But wouldn't a country, poverty stricken or not, be doomed if it couldn't aspire to be part of humankind's journey of exploration?
Hawking has obviously tapped in to something - our fascination with space. Is it space we want to explore, or is space a means to an end?
As we reach ever further into the cosmos, to boldy go where no-one else has been, I wonder what is at the heart of our search? Even Professor Hawking, revered by millions and never short of adoring fans hanging on his every word, admits to being lonely.
And then I happened upon this wonderful story. The story of the Voyager space project and the Golden Record. I believe our search - individually and as a highly evolved people - is to connect with fellow travellers. Nothing more and nothing less.