The Answer is 42 – When I tried to be pen pals with Stephen Hawking

When I was little, I was obsessed with this children’s non-fiction book on space called “Space and Earth: Fascinating Facts about OUR WORLD and Space.” 

I loved reading it, looking at the pictures of the sun and the solar system, and learning all the facts that came with it. There came a time where I would read some of it almost every day whenever I had a second to spare. Ever since I read that book, I’ve been obsessed with space.

When I was eight years old, my mother showed me a movie called “Hawking.” It depicted the life of famous cosmologist Stephen Hawking, his illness and his ingenious brain. She told me that his theories broke the boundaries of astrophysics, and that his work aided in the ever increasing closeness to the discovery of the exact beginning of the universe as we know it. 

Needless to say, the scientist in 8-year-old me was slightly impressed. 

I looked up to him and his work, and dreamed of making the types of discoveries he did. It was this book and this movie that led me to gain an appreciation for outer space, and a motivation to understand the science behind it. 

So I read a few books on various planets, and deemed myself ready to have a conversation with Stephen Hawking.

I’m honestly a little fuzzy on the details, but somehow, someway, my mother and I came to the logical conclusion that I should write a letter to Stephen Hawking. And so I did.

My mother and I Googled something along the lines of “Stephen Hawking work mailing address,” copied the first one we saw, and then proceeded to draft a letter to him. 

In this letter, I discussed my appreciation for his work, my admiration in his perseverance to make such discoveries, and my own scientific theories and ideas about the inner workings of space and existence. I remember writing it in pen, because it was a very sophisticated thing to do.

Or at least I think I did. Again, let me reiterate the fact that I was 8 years old and had no idea what the definition of physics was. 

So I wrote this letter, placed oh-so-carefully in an envelope, wrote all the information on the front, put a stamp on it, and mailed it all the way to Stephen Hawking. 

Words can’t even begin to describe how excited I was for his reply. The fact that I wrote a letter to THE Stephen Hawking had me running up and down the stairs practically screaming with excitement. I imagined what the letter I’d get back from him would say, and the conversations that he and I would have about space. 

And so I waited for his response, already creating an idea in my head for my next letter. I was officially pen pals with Stephen Hawking. 

So a couple days passed, and I didn’t receive a response. Not a big deal. Stephen Hawking probably lived very far away and so it would take a while for the letter to get to him. And so I waited a few more days. And then a few more.

And then I totally forgot about the letter.

What can I say, I was an 8-year-old kid who made it her life goal to be busy every single second of every single day. I was bound to get distracted at some point.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I thought about the letter again. I was old enough to understand that Stephen Hawking would probably not respond to my letter because he was a very busy man and my handwriting was probably illegible. 

But it got me thinking about the hundreds of letters that he must get on a daily basis. I thought about the discoveries that he made, and the pure adoration he had for the work that he did. 

This was around middle school, I think, and it was in a period of my life where I was sucked into the world of the Internet, trying to match the crowd and follow the trends. 

I had forgotten about how interesting and awe-inducing the study of space was. And it was thinking back on this letter that got me thinking about science again.

I expanded my horizons; I looked at the life of Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing, Marie Curie, Katherine Johnson, and their work and accomplishments. I regained my appreciation for science and math and I regained the curiosity that I had lost in those years. 

So, no, I did not receive a letter back from Stephen Hawking. I did not make a miraculous scientific discovery at a young age. I was not a child prodigy in math and science. But I was curious, and I was interested, and it made life a lot more interesting. 

I can say with certainty that I don’t regret sending that letter, and if Stephen Hawking were alive today, I would not hesitate to send another.


Update: Edited for spelling error on Nov 8, 2021