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Stephen Hawking Makes Huge News with Tiny Spaceships

Tacos, cats, houses — what doesn't benefit from the miniature treatment? On Tuesday, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner announced a huge research project in the form of a bite-sized space-probe, Mic reported.

The duo plan to send the probe to Alpha Centauri, our nearest star other than the sun. What makes the project, which was dubbed "Breakthrough Starshot," so groundbreaking isn't just its miniscule size, but the speed of the craft. Alpha Centauri is approximately 25.6 trillion miles away and would otherwise take thousands of years to reach, but Hawking and Milner believe they can develop technology to make a much quicker trip. The ships will travel 100 miles per hour, one fifth of the speed of light, Vox reported.

How it will work.

"What makes us unique is transcending our limits," Hawking said at the press conference. "We can launch a mission to Alpha Centauri within a generation." Milner, who is investing $100 million in the interstellar venture, has said he believes it may be possible within 20 years, according to The New York Times.

The technology Hawking and Milner are developing will accelerate the ship's speed by harnessing laser pulses sent from earth. Once the the nanocraft gets going, however, there won't be any slowing it down — it will reportedly take photos, sample data, and deliver the information back to Earth. For some additional star power (sorry), Mark Zuckerberg also serves on the project's board, Vox reports.

"It is time to launch the next great leap in human history," Milner stated at a press conference.

Why reach for the stars now?

Hawking's motivations are a tad poetic, and tinged with premonitions of doomsday. "Firstly, because there are not greater heights to aspire to than the stars," he explained. "Secondly, it's not a good idea to keep all our eggs in one fragile basket."

"Earth is a beautiful place, but it might not last forever. Sooner or later we must look to the stars," Hawking said in a press statement.

Should our planet face annihilation because of climate change, an asteroid, or some other apocalyptic surprise, he believes it wise to check out the interstellar real estate.

The entire cost of "Breakthrough Starshot" has been approximated at $10 billion, but the first step is creating a battery for the craft, according to The Times.

[h/t Mic]