IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'See you in zero-G'

During his final preparations for today's weightless flight, physicist Stephen Hawking explained why an intellectually brilliant, physically challeged guy like him is taking all this trouble for what could be a few brief encounters with zero-gravity - for what must have seemed to him like the (n+1)th time.

Truth to tell, some of the reporters here have been wondering that themselves. He doesn't need the publicity, and he doesn't need to prove anything here. Or does he? His statement echoed a lot of the deep-thinking pronouncements he's made in the past, including the Q&A session he had with NBC News. Nevertheless, here's his reasoning, encapsulated for the last time before his flight:

"Many people have asked me why I am taking this flight. I am doing it for many reasons. First of all, I believe that life on earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other danger. I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space.

"I have long wanted to go into space, and the zero-gravity flight is the first step toward space travel. I also want to demonstrate to the public that everyone can participate in this type of weightless experience.

"Finally, I am doing this flight to raise money for a number of charities, including ALS, Easter Seals, Starlight Starbright and the X Prize Foundation."

He thanked all the folks who made the flight possible - including Zero Gravity Corp. and its co-founder, Peter Diamandis, as well as lead commercial sponsor Sharper Image. He also paid tribute to Space Florida and NASA's Kennedy Space Center. "The Space Shuttle Landing Facility was the first step to the moon and Mars," he said. "It is very special for me to fly into weightlessness from here."

He thanked his medical team and caregivers, then added a final note:

"As you can imagine, I am very excited. I have been wheelchair-bound for almost four decades, and the chance to float free in zero-G will be wonderful. See you in zero-G."

Steve Kohler - president of Space Florida, the state agency that promotes Florida's space industry - added a postscript that in turn paid tribute to Hawking: From now on, he said, the zero-gravity research center being established for the state's teachers and students would be known as the Stephen Hawking Microgravity Research and Education Center.