World-renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking will fly into suborbital space aboard Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShip Two, he announced Monday on the TV show “Good Morning, Britain.”
Ten years ago, he experienced weightlessness flying on a Boeing 727-200 modified by the Zero Gravity Corporation to simulate zero gravity by flying in parabolic loops.
Diagnosed in 1963 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and expected to live just two more years, Hawking has defied expectations by surviving more than four decades while becoming one of the world’s most prominent physicists.
He communicates through a computerized voice that operates out of his wheelchair.
On the 2007 flight, which gave passengers just a few seconds of weightlessness, an emergency room was set up, and Hawking was accompanied by four doctors and two nurses, noted Zero Gravity Corporation co-founder Peter Diamandis.
The medical personnel monitored Hawking’s blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration during the flight.
Hawking endured zero gravity so well that he was permitted to experience eight separate 30-second periods of weightlessness.
“On the heels of this successful flight with Hawking showing a disabled individual could fly safely in Zero G, I was very proud that we had the next amazing opportunity to fly six wheelchair-bound teenagers into zero gravity. These were kids who had never walked a day in their lives, yet they got to soar like Superman on their flight,” Diamandis said.
On the TV program, Hawking said he has always wanted to fly into space but did not expect anyone to give him the opportunity until Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson offered it.
Approximately 700 people have reserved seats on SpaceShip Two at a cost of about $250,000 per seat.
Current plans call for WhiteKnight Two, a carrier ship, to lift SpaceShip Two to an altitude of 50,000 feet, from where the latter will fly into suborbital space, providing passengers with five minutes of weightlessness.
No target date has been set for SpaceShip Two’s first flight, which was delayed after a failed 2014 test that ended with the uncrewed spaceplane breaking up and crashing in California’s Mojave Desert.
Test flights resumed in February 2016 after the company unveiled its second SpaceShip Two.