Boger ’73 Recalls “Weightless Flight” With Hawking for WNPR

Noted physicist Stephen Hawking (center), who died on March 14, enjoys zero gravity during a 2007 flight aboard a modified Boeing 727 aircraft owned by Zero Gravity Corporation. Joshua Boger ’73 (not pictured), founder of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, was on the flight with Hawking and recalled it for a tribute on WNPR. In this photo, Hawking, who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) was being rotated by (right) Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Zero G Corp., and (left) Byron Lichtenberg, former shuttle payload specialist and now president of ZERO-G. Kneeling behind Hawking is Nicola O’Brien, a nurse practitioner who was Hawking’s aide. (Photo courtesy of Zero Gravity Corp., Wikimedia Commons)

Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09

Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09

Connecticut Public Radio tapped Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09, chair emeritus of the Wesleyan Board of Trustees, for his recollections of a historic flight he had taken back in 2007 with noted physicist Stephen Hawking, who died March 14 at the age of 76. The flight had been sponsored by Zero Gravity Corporation and provided, for those on board, eight zero-G opportunities—or “eight brief windows of weightlessness,” as WNPR correspondent Patrick Skahill described them in his story, “Remembering The Flight Where Stephen Hawking Went Weightless.”

Boger had written in detail about the experience of this zero-G flight with Hawking in  “Weightless But Weighty” in Wesleyan magazine, 2007 issue 3:

“Zero-Gravity One!” Hawking, gently guided by Peter [Diamandis] and Byron [Lichtenberg] rises into the air, supine, on his back, still, curiously, completely flat. It is an electric moment, mocking the classic magician trick with the floating assistant, as he remains floating with no one touching him. . . . I glance over at Hawking’s heart monitor and see that his pulse has raised only a few beats from baseline. Mine is racing. He is in bliss. What is he thinking? What is he feeling?

We’d all give worlds to know. . . .

“Zero-G Eight!” . . . We sit in lotus position, cross-legged, and push a finger gently on the “floor,” floating effortlessly into the center of the cabin. Peaceful, unspinning, we learn at last the cosmic serenity of no gravity. This is the one weightless segment of all the zero-Gs that I will remember the most. No spins. No flights. No ceiling dances. Just gravity down. Gravity up. Nothing happening in between except novel cognition. A glance at Professor Hawking confirms he was there six zero-Gs ago.