While it was obviously the first time gravity expert Hawking has ever had the chance to ‘go weightless’, there was no hiding his glee and happiness at the experience, as seen in the photo and in Hawking’s comments. He said that: “It was amazing. The zero-g part was wonderful. I could have gone on and on – space here I come!”.
He added that: “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 Sharper 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.”
Instead of taking the flight in his trademark wheelchair, Hawking 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 (pictured right), and astronaut Byron Lichtenberg were positioned alongside of Hawking as he floated weightless (pictured left) with the assistance of nurse practitioner Nicola O’Brien, then carefully guide 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 (www.easterseals.com); the Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation (www.starlight.org); the X PRIZE Foundation (www.xprize.org) and Augie’s Quest (www.augiesquest.org). 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 on Wednesday evening, April 25.