Noted physicist Stephen Hawking (center) enjoys zero gravity during a 2007 flight aboard a modified Boeing 727 aircraft owned by Zero Gravity Corp.| Creative Commons
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."
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."
"In general, people love the idea of being able to look down on our planet or look out on the Milky Way, so as soon as this company was announced, people started saying they would love to participate," CEO George Whitesides told reporters Monday. What's interesting is that in all of human history only about 530 people have been to space and we've now got about 570 signed up to fly on Virgin Galactic and we should be able to fly those people in about a year or two."
Check out video of that landmark flight test below.
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