Stephen Hawking, the brilliant theoretical physicist who has dedicated his life to studying the mysteries of the cosmos, is betting on briefly reaching them himself.
Despite battling neurogenerative disease for decades, the 71-year-old said during a charity talk in London on Tuesday that travel of any kind is still very much a passion.
"Being on a ventilator has not curbed my lifestyle," he said using his familiar computer-generated voice. "I have been to Brussels, the Isle of Man, Geneva, Canada, California ... and I hope to go into space with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. It is possible to have quality of life on a ventilator."
Hawking's training for a possible flight in space actually started six years ago when he experienced eight rounds of weightlessness aboard a specially modified Boeing 727 jet. "It was amazing," Hawking told reporters afterward. "The zero-G part was wonderful, and the high-G part was no problem. I could have gone on and on."
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Preceding that trip, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson had already promised Hawking a trip aboard SpaceShipTwo.
"Obviously we would be honoured to have Stephen fly with Virgin Galactic," he wrote back in 2006. "We have a great medical team and we are planning to have our chief medical officer sit down with Stephen, and we will do everything in our power to make his dream of going to space possible. But at the end of the day, it will be Stephen's decision, and it goes without saying we would be delighted to have him onboard."
After a successful supersonic flight by SpaceShipTwo earlier this week, officials at Virgin Galactic believe commercial flights (costing $200K per person) may begin as soon as early 2014. Over 500 people, including Russell Brand and Ashton Kutcher, have signed up for the experience.
Check out video of that landmark flight test below.