Hawking Flies Among the Heavens

After living for over 50 years with the diagnosis of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author Stephen Hawking passed away on March 14 in Cambridge.

ALS, a rare and paralyzing motor neuron disease, has a prognosis rate of two to five years. Hawking was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 21 in 1963; he was given two years to live.

“What a triumph his life has been,” Martin Rees, a Cambridge University cosmologist said. “His name will live in the annals of science; millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his best-selling books; and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds — a manifestation of amazing willpower and determination.”

Hawking did not take his diagnosis as a death sentence like most do. He took his diagnosis and went through life with it. Even with his illness, he published a multitude of books including “A Brief History of Time”, “Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays”, and a series of children’s books unlisted with his daughter, Lucy Hawking.

“Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist so captured the public imagination and endeared himself to tens of millions of people around the world,” Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, said in an interview with The New York Times.

Hawking made many discoveries relating to space and cosmology. Along with James Bardeen and Brandon Carter, he co-discovered the four laws of black hole mechanics. One of his most significant theories he produced also related to black holes; he theorized that black holes emit radiation and continue to until they exhaust their energy and evaporate.

“I think he’s a brilliant mind,” DC and Pre-AP chemistry teacher Heather Hillebrenner said. “He is a testimony to that there are no limitations to what you can achieve. He didn’t allow any disabilities to stop him, nor did he make excuses.”

Although ALS stripped Hawking of his ability to speak, he had assistive technological equipment that helped him be able to communicate with the world. He could move a muscle in his cheek, so he had a traditional eye motion communication device switched to his cheek muscle so that he could still talk to the world.

“I want to show that people need not be limited by physical handicaps as long as they are not disabled in spirit,” Hawking said when asked about why he took so many risks.

Stephen Hawking is one of the most well known people in the world with ALS. His story and struggle was an example to many people in the world with or without ALS.

“Stephen Hawking inspired me before ALS,” ALS stricken former New Orleans Saint football player Steve Gleason said in a tweet. “But since ALS, he saved my life with his example – people diagnosed with ALS can contribute to live productive and purposeful lives for decades.”