Virgin Galactic's second SpaceShipTwo will be revealed to the world next month — and Stephen Hawking is invited to the ceremony.
The previous SpaceShipTwo crashed in 2014 after its "feathering" system was deployed prematurely, leaving one pilot dead and the other injured. The accident hasn't stopped Virgin Galactic from building rocket planes, which could one day ferry tourists into space.
SpaceShipTwo will make its public debut on February 19 at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California, Virgin Galactic confirmed to NBC News. The guest of honor? Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who has agreed to attend the unveiling, provided he is healthy enough.
Hawking took a zero-gravity flight in 2007, despite suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) since he was 21 years old. Recently, he has been forced to cancel public appearances due to health concerns.
Professor Stephen Hawking is one of the people I admire most in the world, an undisputed genius who has opened our eyes to the wonders of the universe, while also happening to be a kind and delightful man. He is the only person I have given a free ticket with Virgin Galactic, and he is signed up to fly as a Future Astronaut with us if his health permits it.
We all wish Stephen the very best as he continues his recovery from recent health issues. We are very honoured that Stephen has agreed to help us unveil our new spaceship in February if he is feeling well enough. He has long been an inspirational for all the team, as well as an enthusiastic advocate for our goals of democratising access to space for the benefit of life on earth. Ahead of that milestone, our brilliant Astronaut Relations team recently arranged an event for our Future Astronauts with Professor Hawking at Cambridge University, on a day centred on the theme of astronomy.