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Space: Gopi Thotakura, the first Indian-origin space tourist, waves the Tricolor

Space: Gopi Thotakura, the first Indian-origin space tourist, waves the Tricolor

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: Gopichand Thotakura,30, made history on Sunday when he became the first Indian-origin space tourist and waved the Tricolor, as five other crew members for the New Shepard-25 (NS-25) mission of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin aerospace firm’s flight, that lifted off a private ranch in West Texas, USA, looked on.

With this space flight, he became the second Indian space visitor after Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma of the Indian Air Force, who flew into space in 1984 aboard a Soviet spacecraft, Soyuz T-11. The other space visitors, related to India, like Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams, were American citizens.

An entrepreneur and a pilot from Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, he was selected as one of the six crew members of the flight, the media reported.

With this flight, New Shepard returned to space tourism after a two-year hiatus following a rocket mishap in September 2022. This landmark mission marks the seventh human voyage for the NS program.

Along with the select cadre embarking on the NS-25 mission was Gopichand Thotakura, and former Air Force Captain Ed Dwight, over 90 years of age, the first Black astronaut to enter space.

As the spacecraft crossed the Karman Line, the universally recognized boundary of space 62 miles (100 km) above sea level, the travelers relished the awe-inspiring panorama of the Blue Earth’s curvature. The six intrepid explorers, if only for a fleeting moment, experienced weightlessness and engaged in mid-air calisthenics.

The NS program suffered a setback in September 2022 when a rocket encountered an anomaly shortly after lift-off. However, swift action ensured the safety of potential astronauts, with the unmanned capsule promptly deploying as designed.

A former Air Force aviator, Ed Dwight’s journey to space culminates decades after facing rejection from NASA’s astronaut corps in the 1960s. At 90 years, 8 months, and 10 days, he surpassed the age record for the oldest person in space, science fiction TV series “Star Trek” icon William Shatner, who was 90 in 2021 when Bezos invited him to join the first private space flight.

Mission NS-25 marks the seventh human flight of the Bezos’s venture. With aspirations extending beyond terrestrial confines, the Amazon chief envisions these brief sojourns aboard the New Shepard suborbital craft as a prelude to grander ambitions, including the development of heavy-lift rockets and lunar landers.

To date, Blue Origin has facilitated the journey of 31 individuals aboard six flights of the New Shepard, a compact and fully reusable rocket system named after Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut to travel in space in 1961.

Now, Blue Origin aims to forge partnerships with NASA to realize the ambition of lunar exploration in the years to come. Its New Shepard is a reusable suborbital rocket system designed to transport astronauts and research payloads beyond the Karman line.

“Whether you are an astronaut traveling alongside Blue Origin or dispatching a payload into space, your brief 11-minute journey aboard New Shepard promises to be an unforgettable adventure,” Blue Origin’s official website said.


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