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Professor Stephen Hawking has announced that he is flying into space with the help of the Virgin Galactic program.
Stephen Hawking to travel to space through Virgin Group
Hawking has long been an advocate of space flight and believes it is the only way mankind will survive as a species for any prolonged period of time in the future. He said on the subject:
I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be space and that it represents an important life insurance for our future survival, as it could prevent the disappearance of humanity by colonizing other planets.
His views on space travel are logically sound. If multiple planets are colonized than a disaster on one planet would not spell the end for the species. Similarly, the more planets mankind is able to colonize, the faster technology would be able to advance and the greater the species as a whole would become. Of course, at present we are only at the very early stages of this as commercial rather than government-backed space flight has only been a possibility for the last few years.
He was in fact offered a space on one of the Virgin trips back in 2014 although at the time had to decline due to health concerns, saying:
I would love to go to the Moon, or to go into space. I was due to go into space with Virgin Galactic, courtesy of Richard Branson, but I fear the doctors won’t allow it. It would be a good way to go.
Although he wasn’t able to go in 2014, Hawking and Virgin boss Richard Branson clearly maintained a close relationship afterward, and in 2015 said of Hawking going into space with his company:
Professor Stephen Hawking is one of the people I admire most in the world, an undisputed genius who has opened our eyes to the wonders of the universe, while also happening to be a kind and delightful man. He is the only person I have given a free ticket with Virgin Galactic, and he is signed up to fly as a Future Astronaut with us if his health permits it.
Certainly, from Virgin’s point of view having one of the most eminent and famous physicists in the world fly into space on one of their flights would generate a massive amount of publicity and public interest. Undoubtedly sales of the trips would increase massively, and already the media is widely covering the story which broke only a few hours ago.
The main issues surrounding the idea of Hawking going to space were thought to be his declining health due to slow onset motor neurone disease, which has meant he is increasingly disabled and more prone to infections and lesser illnesses affecting him more profusely.
He is also not as young as he once was and at the age of 75 will become the second oldest astronaut in history after John Glenn who was 77.
Originally diagnosed at 21, Hawking was initially given less than two years to live although has achieved all of his scientific breakthroughs, professorships and book publications while suffering from the disease and adapting throughout his life.
Hawking has been on a zero-gravity flight in the past which simulates the effects of space travel without the risk or expense. In that case and weightless for only a short period of time, his condition was not an issue.
As he will be the first person with Motor Neurone disease (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS) in space, scientists will also have the chance to study how ALS behaves in zero gravity.