The future of Virgin Galactic and commercial space tourism will be unveiled this February at the company's Mojave Desert facility in California. And famed physicist Stephen Hawking may be there for the big event.
The reveal will be both emotional and symbolic, marking the first steps for Richard Branson's space dreams since a tragic accident in October 2014 destroyed the company's first spacecraft, leaving one pilot dead and another badly injured.
"When this story is told in years to come, I believe alongside the bravery of Mike [Alsbury] and the incredible tale of Pete [Siebold]’s survival, will stand the story of the commitment, loyalty and passion of the world’s first private astronauts," Branson said in January 2015.
Branson has invited Hawking to be there for the spaceship's big unveiling. Several years ago, Branson invited the 73-year-old to travel aboard a future SpaceShipTwo flight free of charge, making him the only earthling who has been waived the $250,000 fee. To travel into low-Earth orbit has been a bucket list dream of Hawking's, a desire he casually dropped to Branson in a conversation.
"The Necker Island hotline rang soon afterwards, and with delight I found myself with what I understand, is the only free ticket for a Virgin Galactic space flight that Richard has ever handed out, and knowing Richard a little, I can believe that’s true!" Hawking shared in an interview.
Due to some recent health issues, it's still uncertain whether Hawking will make the trip out to Spaceport America in California. Nonetheless, Branson praised the physicist for his influence in guiding the company to where it is today. "He has long been an inspirational for all the team, as well as an enthusiastic advocate for our goals of democratising access to space for the benefit of life on earth," he wrote.
Look for Virgin Galactic to officially unveil its new SpaceShipTwo (in gleaming white, no less) on Feb. 19, 2016.