One of the greatest minds in the study of space may get the chance to see it for himself. Noted physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking did an interview with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, during which he confirmed that he will be one of the early passengers on Virgin Galactic’s space tourism voyages.
The nearly 12-minute interview covered Hawking’s planned trip, his reaction to the election of Donald Trump, climate change, and his thoughts on the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. He would be on board a Virgin Galactic spacecraft, which is designed for short flights that glide just outside of the Earth’s atmosphere before coming back. Virgin Galactic has been collecting deposits for the trip, which cost well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. During the interview, Hawking said that he has “already completed a zero-gravity flight which allowed me to float weightless,” so he’s well on his way to being prepared for the trip.
In fact, the better question is how prepared Virgin Galactic is. Founder Richard Branson had originally said that the first space tourism flight would take off in 2009, a timeline that was disrupted by a testing accident in 2007 that killed three and injured three others. When the Virgin Galactic Spaceport opened in 2010, Branson said he expected flights to commence within a year and a half. That first launch was delayed further until 2014, when a test flight ended in tragedy. A SpaceShipTwo craft, the kind intended to carry space tourists, broke apart mid-flight, killing one pilot and injuring the other. It’s now unclear when that first commercial flight will take place.
The optimism has gotten the company into trouble. As of 2014 (per The Sunday Times), Virgin Galactic had collected $80 million in reservations over the years for the long-delayed flights, leaving many of those customers wondering if they’d ever actually get their space trips. Among those who have reserved seats are Tom Hanks, Bryan Singer, Ashton Kutcher, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Katy Perry, Paris Hilton, and Richard Branson himself. Branson said Hawking had a spot reserved as far back as 2012, with Hawking himself finally talking about it during his recent interview.
Header image: ITV