Stephen Hawking, the British cosmologist, Cambridge professor and best-selling author who has spent his career pondering the nature of gravity from a wheelchair, says he intends to get away from it all for a little while. On April 26, Dr. Hawking, surrounded by a medical entourage, is to take a zero-gravity ride out of Cape Canaveral on a so-called vomit comet, a padded aircraft that flies a roller-coaster trajectory to produce periods of weightlessness. He is getting his lift gratis, from the Zero Gravity Corporation, which has been flying thrill seekers on a special Boeing 727-200 since 2004 at $3,500 a trip.
In some ways, this is only a prelude. Dr. Hawking announced on his 65th birthday, in January, that he hoped to take a longer, higher flight in 2009 on a space plane being developed by Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic, which seeks to take six passengers to an altitude of 70 miles.
Dr. Hawking says he wants to encourage public interest in spaceflight, which he believes is critical to the future of humanity.