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SpaceShipTwo No. 2 is due for its debut Feb. 19

Image: Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking addresses Virgin Galactic customers (Credit: Richard Branson via YouTube)

More than a year after the first SpaceShipTwo rocket plane was destroyed in a fatal test flight, Virgin Galactic says the second SpaceShipTwo is ready for its California rollout on Feb. 19 – and famed British physicist Stephen Hawking is invited.

Scores of other VIPs, officials and journalists are invited as well: The date for the rollout was disseminated in advisories that went out this afternoon.

Next month’s event, like the debut of the first SpaceShipTwo in 2009, will unfold at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. It should mark a significant step in Virgin Galactic’s harder-than-expected effort to carry tourists as well as researchers and their payloads on suborbital trips to the edge of outer space.

Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, says he has asked Hawking to be on hand if the 73-year-old British physicist is well enough to travel. That’s not a sure thing: Hawking is coping with a neurogenerative disease that has left him almost completely paralyzed, and he occasionally suffers from pneumonia.

In an interview with The Independent, a British newspaper, Branson said Hawking would “name the new spaceship.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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