The London 2012 Paralympics have started with an opening ceremony that paid tribute to host Britain's achievements in understanding the universe - and its rainy weather.
The Olympic Stadium was filled with colourful, massive umbrellas, while Stephen Hawking, the world's most famous living scientist, urged people to look to the stars for inspiration.
Disabled ex-serviceman David Rawlins flew a twin-engined Tecnam P2006 light aircraft over the 62,000-strong crowd to kick off the proceedings.
After a joyous athletes' parade, the Queen declared the Games open, followed by a salvo of fireworks from the stadium roof.
And the Paralympic cauldron was lit in a unique way - the sequence started with Joe Townsend, 24, who lost both legs as a Royal Marine in Afghanistan, flying in on a zip wire. He is aspiring to compete in Rio 2016 as a triathlete.
After his breath-taking descent he handed the flame to David Clarke, a member of the ParalympicsGB five-a-side football team, who in turn passed it to Margaret Maughan, winner of Great Britain's first Paralympic gold medal at the 1960 Rome Games, who lit the cauldron.
To huge cheers, British theoretical physicist Mr Hawking, paralysed and in a wheelchair much of his life due to a rare form of motor neuron disease, kicked off the show with a call for a new age of enlightenment.
"Look up at the stars, and not down at your feet," he said.
"Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at."
A glowing, celestial sphere descended into the middle of a giant central umbrella, igniting the Big Bang signifying the creation of the universe. Some 600 performers with umbrellas that lit up radiated out from the centre.
Then, to the sound of pouring rain, thunder and Rihanna's hit "Umbrella", balloons fell like giant raindrops into the stadium, and disintegrated into puffs of smoke. Fortunately, there were clear skies in east London for the ceremony.
Mr Hawking, 70, said through a voice synthesiser: "The Paralympic Games is about transforming our perception of the world.
"We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create.
"This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics. However difficult life may seem there is always something you can do and succeed at."
Prof Hawking's words were directed at the character called Miranda, played by Nicola Miles-Wildin. She was presented as the eyes of the audience throughout the show - who he told: "Be curious."
Miranda is a character in Shakespeare's The Tempest, a play referenced throughout London's four Olympic and Paralympic opening and closing ceremonies.
Actor Sir Ian McKellen also played a prominent role, in the guise of the Prospero character from The Tempest.
"The greatest adventure lies ahead," he told Miranda.
Led by the three competitors from Afghanistan draped in traditional Pashtun cloaks and caps, the athletes paraded into the stadium to a soundtrack of music mixed by three local DJs.
Taking pictures and waving to the crowd, some on crutches, others in wheelchairs being pushed by their team-mates, the athletes revelled in the moment.
Following tradition, the hosts were the last team in. Peter Norfolk led Britain, the last of 164 nations, into the arena to a rapturous reception and the strains of David Bowie's "Heroes".
'Quadfather' Norfolk, who won quad wheelchair tennis singles gold in Athens and Beijing, proudly carried the Union Flag as members of the 300-strong TeamGB marched around the stadium.
Among them was Martine Wright, a victim of the 7/7 bombings the day after the Games were awarded to London, who is set to compete in sitting volleyball.
Six Paralympians and former competitors - including the legendary Tanni Grey-Thompson - were flown into the stadium in gold wheelchairs.
Accompanying the athletics star were fellow Paralympians Robert Barrett, Kay Forshaw, Tony Griffin, Ian Rose and Marc Woods.
Miranda then landed in the middle of a maze of books in Sir Isaac Newton's garden as an apple dropped.
And the scene was completed a by 45 inflatable apples while the audience were asked to bite down on 62,046 apples that had been handed out to them as they entered the stadium.
Singer Beverley Knight closed the show with a rendition of I Am What I Am as fireworks exploded across the Olympic Park.
But after Conservative MP Aidan Burley sparked controversy with comments made during the Olympics opening ceremony, another prominent Tory prompted anger with her remarks as Italy's Paralympics team entered the stadium.
Former health minister Edwina Currie posted on her Twitter page : "Italians are gorgeous even in wheelchairs. Love 'em." - and received a barrage of critical messages in response.
The ceremony heralds the start of 11 days of sporting action featuring athletes from across the world and before sell-out crowds who have made this the most successful Paralympic Games ever.
The first Paralympic Games were organised to coincide with the start of London's 1948 Olympics by Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a neurosurgeon at Stoke Mandeville Hospital , in Buckinghamshire, who revolutionised the treatment of spinal injury patients.