March 21, 2017
Virgin Galactic is taking Stephen Hawking to space
Internationally renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking is planning to fulfill his “ultimate ambition” by traveling to outer space, having accepted an offer from Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson to be a passenger on a future suborbital flight.
Hawking made the revelation during an interview with Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan on Monday, according to Seeker and the Huffington Post. He said that he has long wanted to “fly into space” but “thought no one would take me” until Branson reached out and made his offer.“I said yes immediately,” Hawking said, noting that his desire to travel into space dates back to a weightless flight he experienced on an airplane that flies parabolic loops to simulate zero gravity (most likely a 2007 flight on G-Force One, a modified Boeing 727-200 operated by Zero Gravity Corp., according to Seeker). “Since that day, I have never changed my mind.”
Virgin Galactic has been working towards launching its space tourism service for more than 10 years, although currently it is not known when the 75-year-old scientist and the company’s other customers can actually expect to make their journeys. Technical difficulties and a tragic October 2014 test flight have forced the first planned tourist launch to be postponed indefinitely. At least 700 customers have paid a reported $250,000 to travel into suborbital space.
Once those flights actually begin, customers like Hawking will board Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo, where a carrier ship known as the WhiteKnightTwo will take them to an altitude of 50,000 feet before releasing the spacecraft, Seeker explained. SpaceShipTwo will then travel into suborbital space, allowing its passengers to be weightless for five minutes before returning home.
Physicist also weighs in on new planets, Trump administration
Hawking, who has been living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) since 1963, also told Morgan that he was excited about the recent discovery of seven Earth-sized planets in a nearby solar system, even though they are about 39 light years away, the Huffington Post said.
“With current technology there is no way we can travel that far,” he continued. “The best we can envisage is robotic nanocraft pushed by giant lasers to 20% of the speed of light. These nanocraft weigh a few grams and would take about 240 years to reach their destination and send pictures back. It is feasible and is something that I am very excited about.”
He also discussed the current political climate in the US, according to Fortune, telling Morgan that he does not feel welcome in the country under President Donald Trump and adding that he was concerned about the current administration’s environmental and climate change policies.
“I would like to visit and to talk to other scientists, but I fear that I may not be welcome,” said Hawking, who added that Scott Pruitt should be ousted as head of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). “Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent. It affects America badly, so tackling it should win votes for his second term. God forbid.”
Image credit: NASA/Flickr