- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who authored the best-selling book, “A Brief History of Time,” soon will experience weightlessness.

Mr. Hawking, who uses a wheelchair and is almost completely paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, plans to go on a weightless flight April 26, officials at the flight operation company said yesterday.

The flight, operated by Zero Gravity Corporation, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based space tourism and entertainment company, will take off and return to a landing strip at the Kennedy Space Center.

“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,” Mr. Hawking said.

The modified Boeing 727 generally soars to 32,000 feet at a sharp angle and then plunges 8,000 feet so passengers can experience 25-second snippets of zero gravity during the descent. As the plane climbs, passengers experience 25 seconds of being pushed down hard, as they feel 1.8 times the normal pull of the Earth.

Zero Gravity Chief Executive Officer Peter Diamandis said assistants will be onboard to help Mr. Hawking.

“The key thing here is that weightless and personal spaceflight is something available to everyone, even someone like Professor Hawking,” Mr. Diamandis told the Associated Press. “This is something that almost everyone can now experience.”

Zero Gravity will pick up the bill, which normally is $3,750. The company also plans to have two seats on the flight auctioned off by two charities.

The company began offering the flights in 2004.

Last year, Mr. Hawking publicly spoke of his desire to go into space and made an appeal to Richard Branson, whose company, Virgin Galactic, is building a suborbital spaceship that could be flying passengers as early as 2009.

Mr. Branson will pay for Mr. Hawking’s ticket into space — a flight that would normally cost $200,000.


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