Stephen Hawking to Help Name Virgin Galactic’s Second SpaceShipTwo

Stephen Hawking (Credit: NASA)
Stephen Hawking (Credit: NASA)

UPDATE: Looks as if the unveiling will be on Friday, Feb. 19, here in Mojave.

Stephen Hawking will name the second SpaceShipTwo vehicle when it is rolled out of its hangar next month in Mojave, Calif.

Sir Richard has invited the theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking to name the new plane at the unveiling. He has already offered the scientist Virgin Galactic’s only free ticket into space – which Professor Hawking has accepted, provided his health allows it.

“Obviously, we had a year’s delay after the accident and it’s tremendous that Stephen Hawking has agreed to come and name the new spaceship,” Sir Richard said.

“He has made it very clear that he thinks mankind and womankind need to work very hard to try to colonise other planets and that space is very important for people back here on Earth,” he said.

Hawking has a free ticket on SpaceShipTwo which now costs a cool $250,000 (up from $20o,000 in 2013). The PR benefits of having the world-famous physicist involved in the roll out ceremony is probably well worth the cost. And it’s the least Hawking can do for such a generous gift.

And this is smart PR by Branson. If a guy as brilliant as Hawking, confined to a wheelchair in fragile health by a debilitating condition, is willing risk his life on this thing, then it must be safe. Certainly, Branson wouldn’t fly such an important person on an unsafe vehicle.

That’s marketing gold after the loss of the first SpaceShipTwo and the death of Mike Alsbury. How safe the ship will actually be, and whether Hawking will fully understand the risks he’s taking before climbing aboard….well, that’s another matter. It looks good. The christening will convey the right image. And at Virgin, image is king.

In the story, Branson also revealed that Virgin Galactic is looking to operate a SpaceShipTwo from Britain’s new spaceport. Multiple airports have applied to the government to be designated the first UK spaceport.

Branson talked enthusiastically about eventually flying hypersonic point-to-point passenger service between Britain’s spaceport and distant cities on the globe.