I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go to space
In this extract from How To Make A Spaceship, the physicist explains why he said yes when offered a seat on Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo and why we need a new generation of explorers
By Stephen Hawking
Sep 26 2016
I have no fear of adventure. I have taken daredevil opportunities when they presented themselves. Years ago I barrelled down the steepest hills of San Francisco in my motorised wheelchair. I travel widely and have been to Antarctica and Easter Island and down in a submarine.
On April 26, 2007, three months after my sixty-fifth birthday, I did something special: I experienced zero gravity. It temporarily stripped me of my disability and gave me a feeling of true freedom. After forty years in a wheelchair, I was floating. I had four wonderful minutes of weightlessness, thanks to Peter Diamandis and the team at the Zero Gravity Corporation. I rode in a modified Boeing 727 jet, which traveled over the ocean off Florida and did a series of manoeuvres that took me into this state of welcome weightlessness.
It has always been my dream to travel into space, and Peter Diamandis told me, “For now, I can take you into weightlessness.” The experience was amazing. I could have gone on and on.
Now I have a chance to travel to the start of space aboard Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity. SpaceShipTwo would not exist without the X prize or without Burt Rutan, who shared a vision that space should be open to all, not just astronauts and the lucky few. Richard Branson is close to opening spaceflight for ordinary citizens, and if I am lucky, I will be among the early passengers.
I immediately said yes to Richard when he offered me a seat on SpaceShipTwo. I have lived with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, for fifty years. When I was diagnosed at age twenty-one, I was given two years to live. I was starting my PhD at Cambridge and embarking on the scientific challenge of determining whether the universe had always existed and would always exist or had begun with a big explosion. As my body grew weaker, my mind grew stronger. I lost the use of my hands and could no longer write equations, but I developed ways of travelling through the universe in my mind and visualising how it all worked.
Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival. Living two thirds of my life with the threat of death hanging over me has taught me to make the most of every minute. As a child, I spent a lot of time looking at the sky and stars and wondering where eternity came to an end. As an adult, I have asked questions, including Why are we here? Where did we come from? Did God create the universe? What is the meaning of life? Why does the universe exist? Some questions I have answered; others I am still asking.
Like Peter Diamandis, I believe that we need a new generation of explorers to venture out into our solar system and beyond. These first private astronauts will be pioneers, and I hope to be among them. We are entering a new space age, one in which we will help to change the world for good.