Stephen Hawking and George Mitchell Totally Wheelchair Raced

George Mitchell in Galveston in summer 2012.
George Mitchell in Galveston in summer 2012.
Photo by Margaret Downing

As the tributes and memorials keep pouring out for George P. Mitchell, father of fracking, savior of Galveston and creator of the Woodlands, it seems pretty clear that he was a pretty cool dude.

In fact, Mitchell was cool enough that he and famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking were buddies who shared a mutual love of science and enjoyed racing each other in their wheelchairs, thus making Mitchell seem even more awesome posthumously.

Mitchell, a native of Galveston, was the man who believed he could use slant drilling and hydraulic fracturing to get a well flowing from the Barnett Shale, the dense brittle shale formation in North Texas, and then went and did it, sparking a shale energy boom that most thought would never be seen in this country again.

Aside from that, he was also really into science and he funded all kinds of scientific research, and was instrumental in getting the Superconducting Super Collider project approved by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s (it was killed off, half finished, because of budget cuts in the 1990s.) He quietly saved the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer at Texas A&M University, and funded research to create stronger magnets to help in cancer research. And the list just goes on and on.  

Because of both his passion for science and support of scientific research, Mitchell also got to meet and hang out with none other than famed theoretical scientist Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time and just an all-around badass, hailed by some as one of the greatest scientific minds of our age.

They were close enough that Hawking gave a video eulogy of Mitchell at the memorial service held last Thursday.

"George P Mitchell was a remarkable individual who combined vision with wisdom and persistence. Through sheer hard work and dedication, he leaves behind an extraordinary legacy. It can be said of very few people that they changed the world--but George Mitchell is among those few," Hawking said.

He also mentioned that he and Mitchell used to have wheelchair races. Yeah, just stop and think about that for a moment: The pioneer wildcatter who caused a sea change that has altered the face of the energy world in ways thought impossible, and the famed scientist zooming along in their wheelchairs (Hawking has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, and is almost entirely paralyzed), like a couple of kids.

"While none of us can match George's ingenuity in geophysical discovery, I am happy to say that I still managed to beat him in wheelchair racing, even if it was only by a narrow margin," Hawking said.

Best. Wheelchair. Race Ever.

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