Stephen Hawking to ride the 'vomit comet'

Physicist teams with video game developer to leave gravity behind.

NEW YORK ( -- If a world-renowned physicist and a legendary video game developer make an odd Mutt-and-Jeff pairing on earth, what sort of odd couple will they make on the verge of outer space?

Stephen Hawking, author of "A Brief History of Time," and Richard Garriott, creator of the "Ultima" series at Electronic Arts (Charts) and currently a producer at NCSoft, will find out when the pair take a ride on the "vomit comet," a specially rigged Boeing 727 that achieves weightlessness through a series of aeronautic maneuvers at 40,000 feet. (The flight also achieves a spectacular level of queasiness among passengers, giving it its unique name.)

The flight's planned for April 16. Hawking, who has been confined to a wheelchair for decades, has said previously that he wanted to show "that people need not be limited by physical handicaps, as long as they are not disabled in spirit."

This will be trip number four for Garriott, an investor in Zero Gravity Corp., the company that operates the vomit comet. The company normally charges $3,500 per flight, but won't charge Hawking. The money will hardly be wasted, though. A high-profile passenger like Hawking could boost interest in space tourism, leading to more bookings. Top of page