Within days of Stephen Hawking calling for humans to escape the fragile planet in order to survive, NASA announced that it would conduct an "initial planning phase" study with Bigelow Aerospace for the purpose of developing a design for a lunar outpost.

Speaking in Los Angeles earlier this month, Hawking forecast that people will become extinct on the home planet within the current millennium. The 71-year-old scientist called for further exploration of space to guarantee the future of mankind.

Hawking's dream, apparently, is NASA's command. David Weaver, Associate Administrator for the Office of Communications, stated, "The agency is intensely focused on a bold mission to identify, relocate and explore an asteroid with American astronauts by 2025 — all as we prepare for an even more ambitious human mission to Mars in the 2030s."

The Bigelow study is intended to provide important information on possible ways to expand NASA's exploration capabilities in partnership with the private sector. The study is framed within NASA's broader commercial space strategy that is intended to foster ideas about how the private sector can contribute to future human missions.

This is not the first time NASA has paired with Bigelow. Under an agreement signed in January 2013, the agency awarded a $17.8 million contract to the aerospace company to provide a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), a module to increase the amount of living space aboard the space station, which is currently about as big as a football field. Bigelow would become the first private company to have one of its modules, about the size of a large bedroom, purchased by NASA and added to the $100 billion, government-run observatory.

By mid-2015, a rocket built by SpaceX, also under contract with NASA, will blast the module to the station from Cape Canaveral. The new space habitation — essentially a balloon made of Kevlar-like material that will be inflated once it reaches orbit — will stay attached to the station for a two-year technology demonstration. During the test period, space station crew members and ground-based engineers will gather performance data on the module, including its structural integrity and leak rate. Embedded instruments also will provide important data on its response to the space environment, including radiation and temperature changes.

Although Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace, has been doing preliminary planning for a moon base for years, this is his first direct working relationship with NASA on the project. Independently conducted by Bigelow Aerospace, this study will involve no payment from the agency.