Hawking’s Zero-Gravity Flight Raises More Than $144,000 for Charitable Organizations Serving Children and the Disabled
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G®), and its sponsors, Space Florida and The Sharper Image, successfully flew world-renowned physicist, cosmologist, and best-selling author Professor Stephen Hawking into weightlessness, performing eight parabolas, even though he only planned for one. It was the first time Professor Hawking, the world’s leading expert on gravity, had an opportunity to experience zero gravity. The ZERO-G Experience™ flight with Professor Hawking took off from the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Central Florida.
“It was amazing. The zero-g part was wonderful,” said Professor Stephen Hawking. “I could have gone on and on -- space here I come!”
Hawking added, “I recommend the experience to everyone and I hope that many will follow me and experience weightlessness. There are a few people and organizations I would like to thank. First I’d like to thank Zero Gravity Corporation, The Shaper Image and Peter Diamandis for arranging this for me. Second, I’d like to thank Space Florida and the NASA Kennedy Space Center for being my host. The Space Shuttle Landing Facility is the first step to the moon and Mars. It is very special for me, to fly into weightlessness from here.”
“Professor Hawking’s expression said it all -- the grins of sheer joy and excitement he displayed were unmistakable and no different than the giddiness and fun that all of our flyers experience,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, CEO and Co-Founder of ZERO-G. “For me personally, and for all of us at ZERO-G, it has been a complete honor and thrill to give Professor Hawking this opportunity to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams.”
Professor Hawking did not fly with his wheelchair; rather, he was placed flat on his back, on the specially padded floor in the center of the large open cabin at the start of each parabola. He then floated up into the center of the cabin. ZERO-G co-founders Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, and astronaut Byron Lichtenberg were positioned alongside of Hawking as he floated weightless with the assistance of nurse practitioner Nicola O’Brien, then carefully guided him slowly back down to the floor during the return to normal gravity. The onboard flight’s crew and staff included four physicians, two of which are members of Hawking’s own medical team.
The Hawking flight was also organized as a benefit for several charitable organizations, namely Easter Seals, the Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation, the X PRIZE Foundation and Augie’s Quest. ZERO-G donated two seats aboard the Hawking flight to each group, for them to then auction off. Altogether, the charities raised $144,000, which included $75,000 raised by the Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation for the two tickets it auctioned on eBay. In addition to the flight itself, the donors and other passengers that participated also enjoyed a Space Florida-sponsored dinner and lecture by Professor Hawking at the JW Marriott in Orlando.
In preparation for the actual flight, Zero Gravity Corporation scheduled a training flight. The flight included Professor Hawking’s personal staff, medical team, a Hawking body-double and ZERO-G’s coaching team. Space Florida, the organization charged with promoting commercial space tourism in the state of Florida, served as the flight’s education sponsor and selected a Florida teacher and student to participate in this experience.
Ted Straight, an 8th grader at Stone Middle School in Melbourne, FL of similar height, weight and build as Professor Hawking, had the prestigious honor of serving as Hawking’s stand-in, or body-double, on the training flight. Susan Harris, a teacher at Hill-Gustat Middle School in Highlands County, FL, participated in both the training flight and the flight with Professor Hawking, during which she served as a flight coach. Harris is recording and sharing her experience on the Hawking flight via a blog on the ZERO-G site -- www.gozerog.com.
Said Steve Kohler, Executive Director of Space Florida, “We are proud to be a part of this unique event, as well as the sponsor of last night’s pre-flight dinner and lecture by Prof. Hawking. Florida has been the aerospace leader in the past and through our partnerships with innovative companies like ZERO-G, we will continue to be the global leader in space research, development, exploration and commerce.”
The Sharper Image, who co-sponsored this flight, recently announced that it will be selling ZERO-G flights commercially through its 187 retail locations nationwide. Individuals interested in purchasing seats can do so by visiting The Sharper Image stores or website, or by going to www.gozerog.com.
Prof. Hawking’s best-selling books, “A Brief History of Time” and “Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays,” examine the basic laws, history and future of the universe. Hawking is known for his contributions to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity, especially in the context of black holes. He has also made public his interest in experiencing weightlessness, and the importance of space as the next frontier for human population.
The ZERO-G Experience consists of a brief training session for flyers (ZERO-G passengers) followed by a 90-minute flight aboard G-Force One, during which parabolic maneuvers are performed. The controlled ascent and descent of the plane allows flyers to experience gravity on Mars (1/3-gravity); the moon (1/6-gravity); and in zero-g space. Since launching its service to the general public in September 2004, the company has conducted more than 100 weightless flights and flown more than 2,500 passengers, including celebrities and personalities, corporate charters, science and math teachers, and individuals age 12 to 85.
G-Force One is a specially modified, 35-passenger Boeing 727-200, and The ZERO-G Experience™ is the only FAA-approved weightless flight experience available to the general public. The weightless flights are similar to those conducted by NASA for more than 40 years to train its astronauts. ZERO-G was recently granted FAA approval to fly individuals with disabilities. ZERO-G operates under the highest safety standards as set by the FAA (Part-121) with its partner Amerijet International. Aircraft operations take place under the same regulations set for commercial passenger airlines.
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