MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has spent much of his adult life in a wheelchair. Hawking has ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease and is paralyzed. Today, Stephen Hawking got the chance to get out of his chair and free himself from gravity altogether. He took to the skies over Florida in a jet that climbs and then dives sharply to simulate the zero-gravity environment of space. Hawking, who communicates through an electronic voice simulator, held a news conference before the flight.
Mr. STEPHEN HAWKING (World-renowned Physicist): 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.
BLOCK: The Zero Gravity Corporation allowed Hawking to fly for free but the event was also a fundraiser. Seats on the plane alongside Hawking and his medical team were sold at auction, raising $150,000 for various charities. Hawking is an expert on outer space phenomena such as black holes and is an advocate for space exploration.
Mr. HAWKING: I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space.
BLOCK: NASA astronauts and other professional space explorers have been using the climb and dive method of zero-gravity training for years. The flight was known in that circle as the vomit comet for its nausea-inducing qualities. But in advance of the flight, Zero Gravity Corporation CEO Peter Diamandis assured Stephen Hawking that wouldn't be a problem.
Mr. PETER DIAMANDIS (CEO, Zero Gravity Corporation): Given the nickname that NASA gives it and not ours...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DIAMANDIS: ...you know, we have gone literally, hundreds of people without having any motion discomfort. Zero-G has, we think, gotten rid of that nickname. We typically go, we might have one in 50 people, one in a hundred people who feel motion discomfort. And that's only typically after 15 parabolas.
Today, our mission is to get Professor Hawking weightless for 25 to 30 seconds. When we come back with that accomplishment, we will have success. If we do more than that, fantastic.
Mr. HAWKING: No.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Well, Stephen Hawking ended up doing eight climb-and-dive cycles, so he was weightless eight times today.
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