By Tom Costello Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/26/2007 9:42:42 AM ET 2007-04-26T13:42:42

NBC's Tom Costello recently spoke with famed scientist and author Stephen Hawking about his planned zero-gravity flight. As Hawking tells Costello, it will be the first time in a long time that he will be free of his wheelchair. You can see Hawkings' flight tonight on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

Tom Costello: Your work has informed the world on the science of gravity, but did you ever think you'd get to experience zero gravity?

Stephen Hawking: I have wanted to fly into space for many years, but never imagined it would really be feasible. After the X Prize was won, and private space flight became possible, I started thinking about it more seriously. When Zero Gravity Corporation offered me this flight, I accepted immediately.

Costello: What do you expect it to be like?

Hawking: I honestly don't know. Wonderful, I would guess. It has been many years since I've been free of my wheelchair.

Costello: Clearly this isn't easy for you to do, why are you doing it?

Hawking: I think the human race doesn't have a future if it doesn't go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space. A zero-gravity flight is a first step toward space travel.

Costello: Passengers can buy a ride with Zero G, others are working on flights for space tourism... what is the future of civilian space travel?

Hawking: I think that getting a portion of the human race permanently off the planet is imperative for our future as a species. It will be difficult to do this with the slow, expensive and risk-averse nature of government space programs.

We need to engage the entrepreneurial engine that has reduced the cost of everything from airline tickets to personal computers. Personal space flight is the first mass market, and zero-gravity flights are the first, most affordable step in that direction.

I am hopeful that if we can engage this mass market, the cost of spaceflight will drop, and we will be able to gain access to the resources of space, and also spread humanity beyond just the earth.

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