Professor Stephen Hawking
VSS Unity Roll Out
Mojave Air & Space Port
19 February 2016
I have always dreamt of space flight. But for so many years, I thought it was just that – a dream. Confined to Earth and in a wheelchair, how could I experience the majesty of space except through imagination and my work in theoretical physics. I never thought I would have the opportunity to see our beautiful planet from space or gaze outward into the infinity beyond. This was the domain of astronauts, the lucky few who get to experience the wonder and thrill of space flight.
But I had reckoned without the dream of another, a man with the vision and persistence to open up space flight for ordinary, earth-bound citizens. Richard Branson made it his mission to make space flight a reality for those intrepid enough to venture beyond the boundaries of the Earth’s atmosphere. Even so, I did not foresee that I would be among the early passengers bound for this extraordinary experience. I have had ALS for over fifty years now and while I have no fear of adventure, others do not always take the same view.
Fortunately, I have found a kindred spirit in Richard Branson! In a radio interview, I once confessed that my ultimate ambition was to fly into space but I thought no one would take me. Following this, Richard called me from Necker Island to offer me a seat. I said ‘Yes’ immediately. Since that day, I have never changed my mind. If I am able to go – and if Richard will still take me, I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship.
I have long been an enthusiastic supporter of human spaceflight, and in particular, efforts aimed at making this enormous human achievement more accessible. The first private astronauts will be pioneers. The first flights are expensive. But over time, I hope that space flight will become within the reach of far more of the Earth’s population.
We are entering a new space age and I hope, this will help to create a new unity. Space exploration has already been a great unifier – we seem able to cooperate between nations in space in a way we can only envy on Earth. Taking more and more passengers out into space will enable them and us to look both outwards and back, but with a fresh perspective in both directions. It will help bring new meaning to our place on Earth and to our responsibilities as its stewards, and it will help us to recognize our place and our future in the cosmos – which is where I believe our ultimate destiny lies.
Richard, I am so very happy to be playing a part in this celebration and in particular to be naming such an important world first, assisted I understand, by your granddaughter Eva Deia, who is one today. It is my hope that she and her generation will look back on our efforts and recognise that by opening space, we helped to change the world for good.
Please welcome Virgin Spaceship Unity.