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Thumbs up ... and takeoff!

Physicist Stephen Hawking boarded the Boeing 727 plane for his weightless experience, and just a few minutes later "G-Force One" took off from NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida.

As Hawking rolled up to the door of the jet, Zero Gravity co-founder Peter Diamandis stood by his side and flashed a thumbs-up sign for the cameras. One of Hawking's nurses held up his paralyzed hand for the same gung-ho gesture.

It took several steps to get Hawking aboard the plane, which was sitting at one end of the runway at NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida. He was lowered from a shuttle bus on one lift. Next, a nurse assistant ushered him across the runway to a waiting panel truck. Another lift raised him up into the truck. The whole back of the truck rose up on a hydraulic scissors lift to bring Hawking to the level of a door at the rear of the airplane.

Hawking and his entourage emerged from a ramp that went over the truck's cab, and that's when the thumbs-up photo op unfolded. Hawking was then carried to his seat at the back of the specially equipped plane - and then the plane rolled out and flew up, up and away.