GOLDEN, Colo. — Stephen Hawking, the world renowned physicist and cosmologist, sailed into weightlessness April 26 courtesy of the Zero Gravity Corp. ‘s (Zero-G) aircraft.

A leading expert on gravity, Hawking experienced the sensation of microgravity during eight parabolas flown by the Zero-G plane operating out of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The company’s G-Force One aircraft is a specially modified, 35-passenger Boeing 727-200. The company’s Zero-G Experience is the only FAA-approved weightless flight experience available to the general public.

Afflicted by a motor neuron disease, Hawking did not fly with his wheelchair. Rather, he was placed flat on his back, on the specially padded floor in the center of the aircraft’s large open cabin at the start of each parabola. He then floated up into the center of the cabin. The onboard flight crew and staff included four physicians, two of which are members of Hawking’s own medical team to keep tabs on his reaction to the stints of microgravity.

“It was amazing. The zero-g part was wonderful,” Hawking said in a press statement. “I could have gone on and on — space here I come!”

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceliner — making use of the now under construction SpaceShipTwo — has a free seat waiting for Hawking when that firm starts its passenger-carrying operations within the next few years.

In honor of Hawking’s flight, Space Florida renamed its microgravity center the Stephen Hawking Microgravity Education and Research Center. Opened in partnership with Zero-G earlier in 2007, the center is meant to better educate Florida teachers and students about microgravity research.