Kennedy Space Center, Florida, April 26, 2007
—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.
ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, has rendered Hawking paralyzed and mute. Using eye motions and a synthesizer to communicate, he had 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."
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Photograph courtesy Zero Gravity Corporation