Stephen Hawking died. About fifty years after he was supposed to. His passing brought to mind a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Discussion of how extraterrestrials may have found their way to our planet includes a discussion of Einstein's theories about space travel, leading one of the supervisors to suggest that "Einstein was probably one of them."
The same will be said about Stephen Hawking. He became, over the past half century, our go-to smart guy. He figured out black holes. Or started to, anyway. He discovered that something does come out of those voids, contrary to previously held beliefs. He got his own form of radiation named after him for that one.
In 1988, he published A Brief History of Time, and has sold more than ten million copies since. This makes it the best selling science book of all time. Over the years, Professor Hawking shared his thoughts, great big ones, on such matters as the nature of philosophy and the existence of the aforementioned extraterrestrials. "One day, we might receive a signal from a planet like this," Hawking said, referring to the potentially habitable alien planet Gliese 832c. "But we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn't turn out so well."
Hawking was never exactly playful in his deliberations about the nature of the galaxy and our part in it, yet he maintained a position of hope for so many. When he was diagnosed with ALS in 1963, he was expected to live just another two years. Thanks in large part to the medical science he tossed over in favor of studying physics, he survived fifty- three more years than that, adding a human element to his story that might otherwise have been missing from the robotic sounds emanating from his voice box.
Which takes me back to the early years of my marriage when my wife and I planned road trips, including one across the middle of America that had us travelling with only the works of Stephen Hawking, as read by the author. Now maybe we will find the time. Aloha, Professor Hawking. You didn't necessarily stomp on the Terra, but you helped us all understand our place in and around it better.