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The weight is over for gravity expert Professor Hawking; INTERNATIONAL.

Gravity expert Professor Stephen Hawking said "Space, here I come" after he experienced weightlessness aboard a specially modified aircraft.

The renowned theoretical physicist, almost totally paralysed by motor neuron disease, left his wheelchair behind during the two-hour jet flight that gives passengers 25-second bursts of weightlessness by making parabolic plunges.

The jet - a modified Boeing 727 - made eight dives for Prof Hawking, his physicians and nurses and two dozen other passengers.

Prof Hawking, who is already making plans to go into space, said: "It was amazing. I could have gone on and on."

Peter Diamandis, chairman of Zero Gravity Corp, the company that owns the jet, said during two of the plunges Prof Hawking made two flips like "a gold-medal gymnast".

Prof Hawking who took a motion sickness pill prior to the flight as a precaution, spoke last year of his desire to go into space.

He appealed to Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson, who plans to provide sub-orbital rides to paying passengers as early as 2009.

Sir Richard has agreed to "fix it" for the professor and to arrange a Virgin Galactic flight for him.

The spacecraft, launched from a mother ship at 50,000 ft, will soar to a height of 360,000 ft and reach a speed of 2,500 mph.

Before the flight, Prof Hawking said his lifelong study of gravity and black holes had made him excited about experiencing, first hand, weightlessness and zero-gravity.

He added that he wanted to increase public interest in space as he believes humans' survival depends on going into space.

Prof Hawking, 65, is a maths professor at the University of Cambridge who has done groundbreaking work on black holes and the origins of the universe.

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Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking floats in a zero-gravity jet
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 28, 2007
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