Hawking to take on gravity once again

Stephen Hawking: Photo courtesy Peter Kelemen at FLICKR
Stephen Hawking: Photo courtesy Peter Kelemen at FLICKR
Graphic showing weightlessness trajectory: Image source: Sandia National Laboratories
Graphic showing weightlessness trajectory: Image source: Sandia National Laboratories
Now here’s something I’d really like to do sometime, but I guess if anyone should do it before I do it should be gravity’s biggest scholar, Stephen Hawking.

Hawking, the world-famous British theoretical physicist, explainer of black holes and author of the best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, plans to take a ride up into the great Blue Yonder and spend a few brief moments of freedom from gravity’s pull.

Stricken most his adult life with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and wheelchair-bound for decades, Hawking will be aided by a medical team when he takes to the sky this coming spring. Zero Gravity, a Florida-based space tourism and entertainment company will supply the ride up and back from a Cape Canaveral landing strip.

Using a modified Boeing 727 equipped with a special padded area, Hawking and his entourage will fly upward at a steep angle to 32,000 feet then arc over into an equally steep descent of about 8000 feet. During the upward portion of the trajectory, he’ll experience an increased sense of weight (almost twice the normal pull of gravity) but on the downward side of the arc he’ll experience about 25 glorious seconds of weightlessness.

“As someone who has studied gravity and black holes all of my life, I am excited to experience firsthand weightlessness and a zero-gravity environment, “Hawking said, recently.

Astronauts have long trained this way, and some of the scenes in the movie “Apollo Thirteen” were shot on the same kind of flight to give the film an added sense of realism.

About 15 trajectories are experienced in each Zero Gravity ride, which typically lasts about 2 hours from take-off to landing. And don’t let the ride’s nickname (the vomit comet) scare you, only 1-2% of Zero Gravity’s customers are reported to have gotten space sick, The cost of such an adventure runs about $3500 per person (what’s 3 or 4 missed mortgage payments?), but Hawking will get his ride for free, one of the benefits of his celebrity. The company also plans to have two seats on the flight available by charity auction.

The ride could serve as a prelude to Hawking’s dream of someday riding into space. He made an appeal to Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, to achieve that goal. Virgin Galactic is building a sub-orbital spacecraft that it hopes will begin shuttling passengers into space as early as 2009. And Branson says he will personally pick up the tab for Hawking’s $200,000 ticket! (Looks like I’m going to have start coming up with some of my own groundbreaking scientific theories).

Professor Hawking was born 300 years to the day after the death of Galileo, holds twenty honorary degrees and has held the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge since 1979, a position once occupied by none other than Isaac Newton formulator of the law of universal gravitation.

I'd really love to experience weightlessness. What about the rest of you? I think it would be a blast. Maybe I can get the Science Museum to pay for my ticket. Liza?


Itwire web story
Zero Gravity company website
Stephen Hawking webpage
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