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Stephen Hawking — the Science World pays tribute to a great Astrophysicist

The science world mourns by the news of the passing of the British physicist and cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking. According to a statement of his family, he died peacefully at his home in Cambridge at age 76 in the early hours of 14 March 2018. He is survived by his first wife, Jane Wilde, and their three children – Lucy, Robert and Tim. 1)

Born on 8 January 1942 in Oxford, England, Hawking studied physics at Oxford University and astrophysics at Cambridge University. Much of Hawking's research examined the interplay between general relativity and quantum mechanics. In 1974 he derived one of his most famous results: that quantum effects near a black hole's event horizon will lead to the black hole's emission of black body radiation. His 1988 book, 'A Brief History of Time', remains one of the most successful attempts to make modern cosmology accessible. 2)

Dr. Hawking spent the past 50 years living with a terminal illness that slowly deprived him of his speech and the use of much of his body. He also leaves behind an unparalleled scientific legacy and millions of people worldwide who admired him for his genius, his sense of humor, and the way he sought to educate people on the importance of scientific research, space exploration, and disability awareness. 3)

In 1963, when he was just 21 years old, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, aka. Lou Gehrig's disease), a degenerative form of motor neurone disease that would be with him for the rest of his life. At the time, he was told that he had only two years to live. This diagnosis caused Dr. Hawking to fall into a depression and lose interest in his studies, which he was pursuing at Cambridge University at the time. The illness left him in a wheelchair and largely unable to speak except through a voice synthesizer.


Figure 1: Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde on their wedding day, July 14th, 1966 (image credit:

The slow progression of the disease also allowed Dr. Hawking to embark on a career marked by brilliance, brashness, and original thinking. Among his many achievements, Dr. Hawing was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, the Founder of the Center for Theoretical Cosmology, and served as the Sally Tsui Wong-Avery Director of Research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics until his passing.

During his lifetime, Dr. Hawking made invaluable contributions to the fields of theoretical physics and cosmology. These include his extensive work on gravitational singularity theorems (in collaboration with Roger Penrose), the theory that black holes emit radiation (often called Hawking Radiation), and a theory of cosmology that attempted to unify general relativity and quantum mechanics (aka. Theory of Everything).


Figure 2: The world-famous physicist often delivered lectures at universities around the world, like this one he gave on 21 April 2008 at the George Washington University in Washington D.C. Stephen Hawking gave a speech entitled "Why we should go into space" as part of a lecture series marking NASA's 50th anniversary.

Some tributes of the scientific community:

NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot commented in a statement: "Today, the world lost a giant among men, whose impact cannot be overstated. Our condolences go out to the family and friends of Stephen Hawking. Stephen's breakthroughs in the fields of physics and astronomy not only changed how we view the cosmos, but also has played, and will continue to play, a pivotal role in shaping NASA's efforts to explore our solar system and beyond. 4)

"Along with groundbreaking and inspiring work came another attribute that made Stephen a hero not just to younger generations, but also to his peers. A longtime friend to NASA, Stephen was a passionate communicator who wanted to share the excitement of discovery with all. is loss is felt around the world by all he inspired with his work and his personal story of perseverance."

ESA statement: Following the publication of his best-selling book 'A Brief History of Time' in 1988, he became a public figure, communicating science to a worldwide audience. Instantly recognizable owing to his wheelchair and computer-generated voice, he reached iconic status, appearing as himself in shows including The Simpsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Big Bang Theory, as well as being portrayed in the biographical films Hawking and The Theory of Everything. 5)

His deteriorating physical condition did not constrain his mind or his puckish sense of humor, and he showed continued dedication to humanist and socialist causes throughout society. He was worried about the future of humankind and used his public platform to address these concerns.

It is his insightful and innovative scientific legacy that will remain, and generations of scientists to come will be working on the predictions he made regarding some of the most exotic phenomena our Universe has to offer. They will be helped in part by new missions being developed by ESA, including the Athena X-ray observatory and the LISA gravitational wave observatory, for both of which black holes will be fundamental targets. — Prof. Hawking always wanted to go into space himself and, while that is unfortunately no longer possible, we hope that, in some small way, we can play a role in ensuring that his scientific vision does.


Flying Stephen Hawking in Zero G: 6)

Peter Diamandis recalls: Back in 2007, I met Professor Hawking during conversations regarding the XPRIZE. I learned in that first conversation about his interest in flying into space. He asked if I could get him on a sub-orbital flight. I told him that I could not at the moment, but offered him instead a flight aboard G-FORCE ONE to experience parabolic flight. I also offered to make that flight a fundraising event in support of ALS research. He accepted, and we issued a press release.

The next day I received a phone call from the FAA telling us that we were not allowed to fly Professor Hawking under our existing operating agreement. And according to the FAA, Hawking, being totally paralyzed and wheelchair bound, did not qualify.

This proclamation by the FAA infuriated me. After all, I had fought for 10 years to get permission to fly 'the public' into weightlessness. Flying people like Hawking was why I founded Zero-G. After the immediate frustration, I had the presence of mind to ask a key question of the FAA. The answer was: "I guess it would probably be Professor Hawking's physicians or space-medical specialists."

That answer was good news. Next, I purchased a malpractice insurance policy for a few key physicians, and obtained from them three signed letters of support submitted to the FAA stating, "without question, that Hawking was able bodied for a zero g flight."

To maximize the chance of a safe flight, we set up an emergency room onboard G-FORCE ONE and supported Professor Hawking with four physicians and two nurses accompanying him on the trip (monitoring heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, etc.).

At the pre-flight press conference, we announced our intention to fly the Professor on a single 30-second parabola, and maybe, if everything went perfectly, a second arc. At least that was the plan.

The first parabola went so smoothly, and Hawking was having such a great time, that we flew a second, and a third... and another and another. In total, we made eight arcs with him aboard.


Figure 3: After taking off from Kennedy Space Center on April 26, 2007, noted physicist Stephen Hawking enjoys a microgravity flight aboard a modified Boeing 727 aircraft owned by Zero Gravity Corp. He was assisted by Peter Diamandis (right) and astronaut Byron Lichtenberg (left), founders of the Zero G Corp, and nurse practitioner Nicola O'Brien (image credit: NASA, J. Campbell, Aero-News Network) 7)

Legend to Figure 3: On the heels of this successful flight with Hawking showing a disabled individual could safely fly in Zero G, I was very proud that we next had the amazing opportunity to fly six wheelchair-bound teenagers into zero gravity. These were kids who had never walked a day in their lives, yet they got to soar like superman on their flight.

"It was amazing," Hawking told reporters afterward, using his well-known computerized voice. "The zero-G part was wonderful, and the high-G part was no problem. I could have gone on and on. - Space, here I come," he said. 8)

The zero-G airplane flights conducted by Zero Gravity, as well as government space programs, duplicate the sense of weightlessness that astronauts feel in orbit for about a half-minute at a time. The plane follows a parabolic, roller-coaster course through the sky. During the top half of each parabola, airplane passengers feel as if they're in free-fall — but when the plane pulls out of its descent, they feel more than the normal pull of gravity.


1) "Stephen Hawking: Visionary physicist dies aged 76," BBC News, 14 March 2018, URL: http://become/news/uk-43396008

2) Andrew Grant, "Stephen Hawking (1942–2018)," Physics Today, 19 March 2018, URL:

3) Matt Williams, "Stephen Hawking has passed away at age 76," Universe Today, 14 March 2018, URL: https:///138798/stephen-hawking-passed-away-age-76-1/

4) "NASA Honors Legacy of Renowned Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking," NASA Release 18-014, 14 March 2018, URL:

5) "Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)," ESA, 16 March 2018, URL:

6) Peter Diamandis, "Stephen Hawking In Zero-G," URL:

7) "Stephen Hawking in weightlessness," ESA, released on 16 March 2018, URL:

8) Alan Boyle, "Hawking goes zero-G: 'Space, here I come'," NBC News, 26 April, 2007, URL:


The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (