Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPrize, is one of my heroes. He is a man of many
talents and hastening the benefits of the future is one of them. Today
I came upon a story he told of taking Stephen
Hawking, the legendary physicist, for a ride. Here it is in Peter’s
decided that world’s foremost expert on gravity deserved the
opportunity to experience zero gravity, so I offered Professor Stephen
Hawking a parabolic flight. He accepted, and we issued a press release.
This is when our friends at the FAA�whose unofficial motto is clearly
“we’re not happy until you’re not happy”�reminded us that our operating
license permitted us to fly only “able-bodied” passengers, and Hawking,
being totally paralyzed and wheelchair bound, did not qualify.
…I decided to fix the problem. First, we had to determine who�in the
FAA’s mind�decides that someone is able-bodied? Second, if we could get
that someone to declare Hawking “able-bodied,” we still had to derisk
our moonshot and ensure his safety.
After wading through lawyers, we determined that only Hawking’s
personal physicians and perhaps experts from the space-medicine world
were qualified to make that call. So after purchasing malpractice
insurance policies for a few of these folks, we were able to submit
three letters to the FAA stating, without question, that Hawking was
fit for a flight.
To address the second challenge, we decided that four physicians and
two nurses would accompany him on the trip, then assembled a flying
emergency room on board the airplane and flew a lengthy practice
flight, training the medical team for everything from a heart attack to
broken bones. We also decided (and announced to the public) that we’d
fly a single 30-second parabola, and maybe, if everything went
perfectly, a second one.
At least that was the plan. The problem with the plan was Hawking. Not
only did he endure that first parabola, he had�as he told me�the best
time of his life. So we flew another and another and still he wanted
more. In total, we made eight arcs with him aboard. Then, on the heels
of this success, we had the amazing opportunity to fly six
wheelchair-bound teenagers into zero gravity. These were kids who had
never walked a day in their lives, yet they got to soar like superman
on that flight. The moral of the story: Stuff goes wrong. Expect it,
learn from it, fix it�that’s how remarkable happens.
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