It is a sad day for everyone who was inspired by the great Professor Stephen Hawking. The word genius gets used too often, but it is certainly true of Stephen. His was a brilliant mind who represented everything humanity can be in its brightest moments.
He was part of our Virgin Galactic family from day one. His support for opening space, his enthusiasm to fly, humbled and inspired us all. I can still remember when I heard Stephen say in a radio interview that his ultimate ambition was to fly into space, but he thought no one would take him. I was on Necker Island, and called him up straight away to offer him a seat. We have a strict no free tickets policy, but he was the exception that would prove the rule. Stephen, whose intellect was only matched by his sense of adventure, said yes immediately.
I am so sorry we didn’t get him into space as he so dearly wished, but so thankful he was able to play such a meaningful role in the development of a new frontier he was so passionate about. It was a huge privilege to have him name VSS Unity, and we are honoured to fly an image of his iris on our spaceship.
We will never forget his words at VSS Unity’s unveiling: “We are entering a new space age and I hope, this will help to create a new unity. Taking more and more passengers out into space will enable them and us to look both outwards and back, but with a fresh perspective in both directions. It will help bring new meaning to our place on Earth and to our responsibilities as its stewards, and it will help us to recognise our place and our future in the cosmos – which is where I believe our ultimate destiny lies.”
It is strange to be in a universe with no Stephen Hawking. He seemed, paradoxically, immortal. But his ideas – not to mention his kindness, and his humour - will live forever. His was a life against the odds, lived to the full. As he said on another occasion he was kind enough to share his wisdom with us: “Looking up has brought us to where we are. Let's look up, again, and remember, as we do, to never stop.”