Famed physicist Stephen Hawking will experience weightlessness for the first time when he flies aboard Zero Gravity’s G-Force One next month.
The flight, scheduled for April 26, will take off from the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will perform parabolic maneuvers during a controlled ascent and descent — in some ways mimicking a roller-coaster ride — so that passengers can experience what gravity is like on Mars (with one-third gravity) and the moon (with one-sixth gravity), as well as zero-gravity space.
Hawking is a world-renowned expert on cosmology and gravity, as well as author of best-selling books including A Brief History of Time, The Universe in a Nutshell and Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays.
Despite being severely disabled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Hawking has made major contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, particularly in the study of black holes.
Hawking has publicly expressed his interest in experiencing weightlessness, and reportedly plans to fly aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which is scheduled to begin commercial space flights by 2009. Hawking has also said he believes colonizing space will be essential to the survival of humanity.
“As someone who has studied gravity and black holes all of my life, I am excited to experience, first hand, weightlessness and a zero-gravity environment,” Hawking said. “I am thankful to Zero Gravity Corporation for making this experience available to the general public, especially for disabled individuals.”
“It is truly an honor to have Prof. Stephen Hawking aboard The Zero-G Experience,” said Peter H. Diamandis, CEO and cofounder of Zero Gravity. “Our mission is to make the excitement and adventure of space and weightlessness accessible and enjoyable. Flying Prof. Hawking helps us demonstrate how this unique experience, once available only to astronauts, is now available to everyone.”
Flight for Charity
Zero Gravity’s flights normally cost US$3,750, but Hawking’s ticket is being paid by the company itself. In addition, Zero Gravity is donating eight more tickets to charity for auction.
Since its launch in September 2004, the company has conducted more than 100 weightless flights for more than 2,500 passengers.
It uses a modified 35-passenger Boeing 727-200, sometimes affectionately referred to as the “vomit comet,” to provide 90-minute weightless flights similar to those conducted by NASA to train its astronauts. Flights reach altitudes of between 24,000 and 32,000 feet. The company was recently granted FAA approval to fly individuals with disabilities.
A Taste of Freedom
“This gives Hawking an opportunity to try something he would never be able to try otherwise,” Paul Czysz, professor emeritus of aerospace engineering at St. Louis University, told TechNewsWorld. Flying on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo will be more difficult for Hawking given his disability, Czysz added, so “it’s neat that Zero Gravity is giving him this experience.”
“This is very moving,” James Oberg, a retired rocket scientist who is now an author and full-time media consultant, told TechNewsWorld. “Gravity has not been kind to Hawking,” he declared. “His mind has never been earthbound, and now his body will follow.”