He may be on a ventilator but Stephen Hawking’s zest for life and quest for scientific exploration remain undiminished — and soon the renowned physicist could be heading for space.

Prof. Hawking (71) said he planned to join the British tycoon Richard Branson on his company’s first commercial space flight that could happen as early as next year.

“Since going on a ventilator full-time, I have been to Brussels, the Isle of Man, Geneva, Canada, California twice, and I hope to go into space with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic,” said the former Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University and author of the international best-seller, A Brief History of Time.

Virgin Galactic responded enthusiastically, with its president and CEO George Whitesides saying: “Richard and the team would love to welcome him on board”.

Prof. Hawking already has some experience of weightlessness in the Earth’s atmosphere, having been aboard a simulated space flight in 2007 — an experience which he described as “amazing”.

“Space, here I come!” he declared after that flight.

Making a rare public appearance in London to launch a report about the treatment of children on long-term ventilation, Prof. Hawking disclosed that he had been on full-time ventilation for the past 18 months, using a machine supplied by the National Health Service (NHS).

“It is possible to have quality of life on a ventilator,” he said, according to a report in Cambridge News.

With his characteristic precision to detail, the scientist explained how the ventilator worked.

“It is a small box which fits easily on the back of my wheelchair. It has an internal battery and you can plug in external batteries. This is important in case of power cuts and because it allows me to move around like now.”

Despite fears being repeatedly raised over his health, Prof. Hawking has not slowed down and was the star of the show at the opening ceremony of the London Paralympic Games last summer.

Prof. Hawking speaks with the help of a computer.

“His speech has slowed to just one word a minute, twitching his cheek to stop a cursor moving across text on a screen, but computer hardware firm Intel has been developing a device which will allow Prof. Hawking to compose his sentences more quickly,” said Cambridge News.

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