Stephen Hawking eyes space flight next year
London: Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has made it clear that being on a ventilator hasn’t curbed his lifestyle and said his next aim is to go join British tycoon Richard Branson on a space flight as early as next year.
“Being on a ventilator has not curbed my lifestyle. Since going on a ventilator full time I have been to Brussels, the Isle of Man, Geneva, Canada, California twice, and I hope to go into space with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic,” he said during a rare public appearance in London.
It’s been six years since the Cambridge professor and author of the worldwide bestseller, A Brief History of Time, got a taste of weightlessness during a zero gravity flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre, but he still wants to feel the real deal aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane. After that flight Prof. Hawking declared, “Space, here I come!”
“I have been to Brussels, the Isle of Man, Geneva, Canada, California... and I hope to go into space with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. It is possible to have quality of life on a ventilator,” the 71-year-old was quoted in the Cambridge News as saying.
If all the tests go right, SpaceShipTwo could be taking passengers on suborbital space trips as early as next year.
Mr. Branson, Virgin Galactic’s founder, promised to consider Prof. Hawking for one of those trips even before he took his ride into weightlessness in 2007. The invitation still stands, according to George Whitesides, the company’s president and CEO.
“Richard and the team would love to welcome him on board,” Mr. Whitesides told NBC News on Tuesday.
The wheelchair-bound scientist, now director of research at Cambridge’s Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, revealed he has been on full-time ventilation for the last 18 months, using a machine supplied by the U.K.’s National Health Service.
His speech has slowed to just one word a minute, twitching his cheek to stop a cursor moving across text on a screen.
Computer hardware firm — Intel has been developing a device which will allow Prof. Hawking to compose his sentences more quickly.
If Prof. Hawking were to fly into space sometime in the next few years, he’d would be second on the list of the world’s oldest astronauts. The only person older would be senator-astronaut John Glenn, who flew on the space shuttle Discovery at the age of 77 and is now 91 years old.
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