Stephen Hawking Plans 2009 Space Trip

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking says he wants to undertake a zero-gravity flight aboard an airplane this year as a precursor to a journey into space, a newspaper reported Monday.

"This year I'm planning a zero-gravity flight and to go into space in 2009," he was quoted as saying in The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Hawking, 65, has said he hopes to travel on British businessman Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic service, which is scheduled to launch in 2009. The service will charge space tourists about $200,000 for a two-hour suborbital trip some 87 miles above the Earth.

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Branson was keen to help the scientist realize his dream of space flight, Virgin Galactic spokesman Stephen Attenborough said Monday.

"Richard is very determined that if we can possibly make this happen, then it should," Attenborough said.

He said the company had not discussed the issue of payment with Hawking.

One of the best-known theoretical physicists of his generation, Hawking gained fame with the best-selling book "A Brief History of Time."

The scientist, who uses a wheelchair and communicates with the help of a computer because he suffers from a neurological disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, has done groundbreaking research on black holes and the origins of the universe, proposing that space and time have no beginning and no end.

Hawking has warned that the survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there's an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy Earth.