Stephen Hawking’s Excellent Adventure

A talk with the celebrated physicist and author on the eve of his zero-g flight.

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Stephen Hawking Stephen Hawking

Not since Carl Sagan has a scientist captured the world’s fancy like British cosmologist Stephen Hawking. Communication is cumbersome for the 65-year-old University of Cambridge professor and best-selling author, who is paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease. A bout with pneumonia 22 years ago forced doctors to perform a tracheotomy, which left Hawking without a voice. Nevertheless, by using a specially designed computer and voice synthesizer, Hawking was able to answer questions posed by Air & Space contributor Irene Klotz on the eve of his weightless flight onboard a Zero-Gravity aircraft in Florida.

A&S: Why do you want to fly in space? Do you think it’s going to change your perspective in some manner?

Hawking: I think the human race doesn’t have a future if it doesn’t go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space. A zero-gravity flight is the first step towards space travel.

A&S: Of all the unanswered mysteries of the world, what would you most like to know?

Hawking: Why the universe is so big, so smooth and yet just right enough for us to exist.

A&S: (remarking on Hawking’s robotic-sounding voice synthesizer) Nice British accent.

Hawking: Most people say my accent is American.

A&S: What is your favorite word?

Hawking: Thanks.

A&S: Do you think there is intelligent life in the universe? Why would that be important for people to know?

Hawking: I hope intelligent life exists in the universe. There’s not much sign of it on Earth.

A&S: Have you ever thought about writing a novel?

Hawking: I have just written a children’s book with my daughter Lucy. It is called George’s Secret Key to the Universe. It will be published in September.

A&S: Would you call yourself a religious or spiritual person?

Hawking: I’m not religious in the normal sense. I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.