Science

The Day That Stephen Hawking Floated In 'Space'

On 26 April 2007 Stephen Hawking was taken on a flight by Zero Gravity Corporation to experience weightlessness and to feel what it would be like to be in space. Wednesday, 14 March

By National Geographic Team

Whirling like a "gold-medal gymnast"—as one crew member put it—Stephen Hawking took blissful leave of his wheelchair for a 90-minute airplane flight featuring 25-second bouts of weightlessness.

"It was amazing," the British astrophysicist said in a statement. "I could have gone on and on—space, here I come!"

Operated by the Zero Gravity Corporation, the flight followed a rollercoaster-like route, creating weightless conditions at the crest of each arc—a method used to prepare astronauts for space travel. A padded cabin, heart-rate and blood-pressure monitors, four physicians, and a nurse helped keep the A Brief History of Time author from harm.

Motor neurone disease, or Lou Gehrig's disease, had rendered Hawking paralysed and mute. Using eye motions and a synthesiser to communicate, he  said before the flight that "it will be bliss to be weightless," according to the Associated Press.

But Hawking made clear that this was more than a personal journey.

"Life on Earth is at ever increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers," he said in a statement. "I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go into space."