The Planetary Society presented the Cosmos Award for Outstanding Public Presentation of Science to Stephen Hawking in Cambridge England on February 27. Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's widow and collaborator, Neil deGrasse Tyson and I presented the award, a beautiful glass sculpture of Saturn.
A grant from the M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation made possible The Planetary Society's Cosmos Award for Outstanding Public Presentation of Science and that has been awarded to date to James Cameron, Paula Apsell and Stephen Hawking.
In his acceptance speech, Dr. Hawking mentioned how Carl Sagan had inspired both him and the award itself. Ann noted that Carl wrote the introduction to Dr. Hawking's, A Brief History of Time, and reminisced about the wonderful time she and Carl had in Cambridge with Dr. Hawking many years ago while working on the television series, Cosmos.
The presentation was made during an event at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences and featured a terrific panel discussion about the future of human space exploration. Dr. Hawking gave a keynote talk on the subject, making a strong argument in favor of humans becoming a multi-planet species. Following his talk I moderated a panel that included Tyson, Druyan, Jim Bell, Bill Nye, and Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal of the Great Britain.
Rees is a strong believer that humans will one day explore Mars, but he is not sanguine about government support for this. He says it is likely only to happen by adventurers privately seeking some prestigious and lucrative prize, willing to take the high personal risk involved.
Led by the irrepressible Neil Tyson, the panel discussion was as lively as it was insightful. It is always exciting to see our Board in action -- with very different perspectives and yet often in violent agreement. Human space exploration is a hot topic with the major changes for NASA now proposed by the Obama Administration. It is a hot topic in Britain also, where the country is forming a space agency and receiving a government panel's recommendation for becoming more active in human space flight.
After the event, I and the other board members, together with Dr. Hawking, were delighted to meet many members of The Planetary Society at the reception, including several who had traveled from overseas to attend.