Famed Physicist Stephen Hawking got to experience weightlessness yesterday during a flight provided by Zero Gravity Corp. Dr. Hawking is paralyzed by the disease ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which normally has him confined to a wheelchair and using a computer generated speech system.
The famous scientist hopes to make a more challenging suborbital spaceflight when that opportunity becomes available in two or three years. Alan Boyle elaborates on the significance of Hawking's flight and his belief in the importance of expediting human expansion into space.
On another level, Hawking spent the most time during his preflight interview with NBC News talking about how the space effort needed to engage "the entrepreneurial engine that has reduced the cost of everything from airline tickets to personal computers." Only then, he said, could the cost of space travel fall to the point that we could start thinking about expanding our living space beyond Earth, as an insurance policy in case the unthinkable happened on our home planet.
Meanwhile, Taylor Dinerman writes in the Wall Street Journal that access to the weightless environment for the disabled might itself be a major benefit of the coming space enterprise.
There's another aspect to this story. An idea held by some in our society is that someone with a severe disability like Hawking does not have an adequate 'quality of life' to justify protecting and sustaining that life. Stephen Hawking demonstrates the foolishness of that notion by pursuing a dream and continuing to contribute to society. For more on protecting the lives and dignity of the disabled, check out Not Dead Yet and the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation.