STEPHEN Hawking told an audience in Oxford that humanity must continue exploring space to reach 'beyond our humble planet'.

Professor Hawking also said space travel would improve humanity's understanding of itself.

The world-renowned physicist was speaking to an audience mainly of university students and professors at Oxford Union on Monday night.

The union tweeted live highlights from his speech including the direct quote: "We must continue exploring space in order to improve our knowledge of humanity. We must go beyond our humble planet."

The union also quoted Professor Hawking saying: "No matter how difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and be good at."

The students who organised the debate thanked the physicist for sharing some of his extraordinary life story with them.