Peter Diamandis: Stephen Hawking's zero g flight
February 2, 2008
X Prize founder Peter Diamandis talks about how he helped Stephen Hawking fulfill his dream of going to space -- by flying together into the upper atmosphere and experiencing weightlessness at zero g.Peter Diamandis
- Space activist
Peter Diamandis runs the X Prize Foundation, which offers large cash incentive prizes to inventors who can solve grand challenges like space flight, low-cost mobile medical diagnostics and oil spill cleanup. He is the chair of Singularity University, which teaches executives and grad students about exponentially growing technologies. Full bio
Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Those of you who know me know how passionate I am
about opening the space frontier.
So when I had the chance to give the world's expert in gravity
the experience of zero gravity, it was incredible.
And I want to tell you that story.
I first met him through the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics.
It's a competition we're holding, the second X PRIZE,
for the first team to sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days.
We have something called the Genome 100 --
100 individuals we're sequencing as part of that.
Craig Venter chairs that event.
And I met Professor Hawking,
and he said his dream was to travel into space.
And I said, "I can't take you there,
but I can take you into weightlessness into zero-g.
And he said, on the spot, "Absolutely, yes."
Well, the only way to experience zero-g on Earth
is actually with parabolic flight, weightless flight.
You take an airplane, you fly over the top, you're weightless for 25 seconds.
Come back down, you weigh twice as much.
You do it again and again.
You can get eight, 10 minutes of weightlessness --
how NASA's trained their astronauts for so long.
We set out to do this.
It took us 11 years to become operational.
And we announced that we were going to fly Stephen Hawking.
We had one government agency and one company aircraft operator say,
you're crazy, don't do that, you're going kill the guy.
And he wanted to go.
We worked hard to get all the permissions.
And six months later, we sat down at Kennedy Space Center.
We had a press conference,
we announced our intent to do one zero-g parabola,
give him 25 seconds of zero-g.
And if it went really well, we might do three parabolas.
Well, we asked him why he wanted to go up and do this.
And what he said, for me, was very moving.
He said, "Life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk
of being wiped out by disaster ...
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."
We took him out to the Kennedy Space Center,
up inside the NASA vehicle, into the back of the zero-g airplane.
We had about 20 people who made donations --
we raised $150,000 in donations for children's charities --
who flew with us.
A few TEDsters here.
We set up a whole ER.
We had four emergency room doctors and two nurses on board the airplane.
We were monitoring his PO2 of his blood, his heart rate, his blood pressure.
We had everything all set in case of an emergency;
God knows, you don't want to hurt this world-renowned expert.
We took off from the shuttle landing facility,
where the shuttle takes off and lands.
And my partner Byron Lichtenberg and I
carefully suspended him into zero-g.
Once he was there, [we] let him go
to experience what weightlessness was truly like.
And after that first parabola, you know,
the doc said everything is great. He was smiling, and we said go.
So we did a second parabola.
And a third.
We actually floated an apple in homage to Sir Isaac Newton
because Professor Hawking holds the same chair at Cambridge
that Isaac Newton did.
And we did a fourth, and a fifth and a sixth.
And a seventh and an eighth.
And this man does not look like a 65-year-old wheelchair-bound man.
He was so happy.
We are living on a precious jewel,
and it's during our lifetime that we're moving off this planet.
Please join us in this epic adventure.
Thank you so much.
- Space activist
Peter Diamandis runs the X Prize Foundation, which offers large cash incentive prizes to inventors who can solve grand challenges like space flight, low-cost mobile medical diagnostics and oil spill cleanup. He is the chair of Singularity University, which teaches executives and grad students about exponentially growing technologies.Why you should listen
Watch the live onstage debate with Paul Gilding that followed Peter Diamandis' 2012 TEDTalk >>
Peter Diamandis is the founder and chair of the X Prize Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is simply "to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity." By offering a big cash prize for a specific accomplishment, the X Prize stimulates competition and excitement around some of the planet's most important goals. Diamandis is also co-founder and chairman of Singularity University which runs Exponential Technologies Executive and Graduate Student Programs.
Diamandis' background is in space exploration -- before the X Prize, he ran a company that studied low-cost launching technologies and Zero-G which offers the public the chance to train like an astronaut and experience weightlessness. But though the X Prize's first $10 million went to a space-themed challenge, Diamandis' goal now is to extend the prize into health care, social policy, education and many other fields that could use a dose of competitive innovation.
The original video is available on TED.com