British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking is ready to take a zero-gravity flight in a specially modified airplane next month. His trip is being paid for by Zero Gravity, an American company that normally charges $3,750. Hawking, who is almost completely paralyzed and frail after decades in a wheelchair, will be accompanied by medical staff.
Hawking will take off on April 26 aboard the vomit comet, a padded Boeing 727 that flies a roller-coaster trajectory to produce periods of weightlessness. This plane will take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The airplane flies to an elevation of 32,000 feet (9.75kilometers) at a steep angle and then dives 8,000 feet (2,400meters) to allow passengers to experience weightlessness for 25 seconds.
In an e-mail interview, Dr. Hawking said, "I'm not worried about the zero gravity section, but the high-G part will be difficult."
Peter H. Diamandis, chief executive of Zero G, said that "the idea of giving the world's expert on gravity the opportunity to experience zero gravity" was irresistible.
In the e-mail interview, Professor Hawking said he wanted to encourage public interest in spaceflight. "I also want to show that people need not be limited by physical handicaps as long as they are not disabled in spirit," Hawking said.
There are plans by several charities to auction off two seats on the same flight.
On his 65th birthday in January, Hawking said he hoped to take a longer, higher flight in 2009 on a space plane being developed by Richard Branson's company Virgin Galactic, which will take six passengers to an altitude of 70 miles.
Hawking was only a graduate student at Cambridge University in the 1960s when he found that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, which usually kills its victims in two to five years. He persevered to get his degree and become the world's reigning expert on black holes, the bottomless pits in which gravity has crushed dead stars, space and time out of existence. Hawking long ago lost the power of speech and communicates with a computerized voice synthesizer that is controlled by his eye movements
Along the way he married twice, fathered three children (he is now a grandfather), wrote the best-selling "A Brief History of Time" among other books, traveled the world and appeared as a guest on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "The Simpsons."
Dr. Hawking is 'a' 8th (7th had been claimed a few times already!) wonder of the world to me. My imagination as to how he did and does freezes from flowing, having enshrined in a haze of wonderment. It just doesn't go any further!!
Thanks for bringing the latest and additional information about Dr. Hawking to this page.
AriSan in New York
Possibly the most interesting aspect of this story is the fact that he will be "accompanied by medical staff". Wow, now THERE'S a job perk - "you get your own parking space, lunch vouchers and the occasional trip into low-Earth orbit."
Still, good for him!