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Renowned Physicist Stephen Hawking To Make Weightlessness Flight

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ Renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who authored the best-selling book, ``A Brief History of Time,'' soon will experience a brief history with weightlessness.

Hawking, who uses a wheelchair and is almost completely paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, plans to go on a weightless flight on April 26, officials at the flight operator said Thursday.

The flight, operated by Zero Gravity Corporation, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based space tourism and entertainment company, will take off and return to a landing strip at the Kennedy Space Center.

``As someone who has studied gravity and black holes all of my life, I am excited to experience first hand weightlessness and a zero-gravity environment,'' Hawking said in a statement.

The modified Boeing 727 generally soars to 32,000 feet at a sharp angle and then plunges 8,000 feet so passengers can experience 25-second snippets of zero gravity during the descent. As the plane climbs, passengers experience 25 seconds of being pushed down hard, as they feel 1.8 times the normal pull of the Earth.

Zero Gravity CEO Peter Diamandis said assistants will be onboard to help Hawking.

``The key thing here is that weightless and personal spaceflight is something available to everyone, even someone like Prof. Hawking,'' Diamandis told The Associated Press. ``This something that almost everyone can now experience.''

Zero Gravity will pick up the bill, which normally is $3,750. The company also plans to have two seats on the flight auctioned off by two charities.

The company began offering the flights in 2004.

Last year, Hawking publicly spoke of his desire to go into space and made an appeal to Sir Richard Branson, whose company, Virgin Galactic, is building a suborbital spaceship that could be flying passengers as early as 2009.

Branson has decided he will personally finance Hawking's ticket into space _ a flight that would normally cost $200,000.

``He's one of the greatest physicists of all time,'' Virgin Galactic president Will Whitehorn told AP earlier this year.
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