The famous physicist, cosmologist and all-around brainiac had been invited but couldn’t make the Feb. 19 event in Mojave, Calif., due to illness. Instead, he approved a quote explaining his support for the fledgling space company and its newly christened Unity spaceship.
“I would be very proud to fly on this spaceship,” Hawking proclaimed.
The new Virgin suborbital spaceplane replaces a previous version. It’s a reuseable, winged craft capable of carrying six passengers and two crewmembers.
No changes are apparent from outside, but underlying design changes were prompted by a fatal 2014 crash of the previous version of the spacecraft. Test flights of the new craft have yet to commence.
The original SpaceShipTwo broke apart over the Mojave during a test flight. Co-pilot Mike Alsbury was killed in the disaster.
Afterwards, Virgin Galactic parted ways with development partner Scaled Composites, which the National Transportation Safety Board said had failed “to consider and protect against the possibility that a single human error could result in a catastrophic hazard.”
During Virgin Spaceship Unity’s unveiling, additional remarks by Hawking were played as well as video congrats from Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.
Unity represents the first vehicle from the Spaceship Co., a Virgin Galactic manufacturing subsidiary. Virgin Galactic plans to use the spaceplane for space tourism, charging wealthy private individuals hundreds of thousands of dollars for brief journeys at the outer edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.
“We can make space accessible in a way that has only been dreamt of before now and by doing so can bring positive change to life on Earth,” Branson said. “Our beautiful new spaceship, VSS Unity, is the embodiment of that goal also great testament to what can be achieved when true teamwork, great skill and deep pride are combined with a common purpose.”
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