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Gopi Thotakura becomes 1st Indian space tourist on Blue Origin's private astronaut launch

Indian entrepreneur and pilot Gopi Thotakura with crew members of Blue Origin's private astronaut launch NS-25 mission, in Texas. A PTI photo

HOUSTON (PTI): Gopi Thotakura, an entrepreneur and a pilot, has become the first Indian to venture into space as a tourist aboard Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin’s NS-25 mission.

Thotakura was selected as one of the six crew members for the NS-25 mission, making him the first Indian space tourist and the second Indian to venture into space after the Indian Army's Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma in 1984.

Blue Origin's seventh human flight, NS-25, lifted off from Launch Site One in West Texas on Sunday morning, the company announced on social media.

"Today, Blue Origin successfully completed its seventh human spaceflight and the 25th flight for the New Shepard programme.

"Our astronaut crew included: Mason Angel, Sylvain Chiron, Kenneth L. Hess, Carol Schaller, Gopi Thotakura, and former Air Force Captain Ed Dwight, who was selected by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as the nation’s first Black astronaut candidate but never had the opportunity to fly," the company said in a statement.

New Shepard has now flown 37 people into space, including today’s crew, it said.

“A big thank you to our astronaut customers for the opportunity to provide this life-changing experience,” said Phil Joyce, Senior Vice President, New Shepard. “Each of you are pioneers helping to advance our mission to build a road to space for the benefit of Earth,” Shepard added.

This mission was the seventh human flight for the New Shepard programme and the 25th in its history. To date, the programme has flown 31 humans above the Karman line, the proposed conventional boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space.

New Shepard is a fully reusable sub-orbital launch vehicle developed for space tourism by Blue Origin.

According to Blue Origin, "Gopi is a pilot and aviator who learned how to fly before he could drive."

Gopi, 30, co-founded Preserve Life Corp, a global centre for holistic wellness and applied health located near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

In addition to flying jets commercially, he pilots bush, aerobatic, and seaplanes, as well as gliders and hot air balloons, and has served as an international medical jet pilot.

A lifelong traveller, his most recent adventure took him to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Andhra Pradesh-born Thotakura is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

During the mission, the crew soared to more than three times the speed of sound. The rocket vaulted the capsule past the Kármán line, an area 100 kilometers above Earth’s surface that is widely recognized as the altitude at which outer space begins - but there’s a lot of gray area, CNN reported.

At the peak of the flight, passengers experienced a few minutes of weightlessness and striking views of Earth through the cabin windows, it added.

During the flight, each astronaut carried a postcard to space on behalf of Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future.

This programme gives students access to space on Blue Origin’s rockets, including an all-digital method to create and send postcards. The Club’s mission is to inspire and mobilise future generations to pursue careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) for the benefit of Earth.

From an environmental standpoint, nearly 99 per cent of New Shepard’s dry mass is reused, including the booster, capsule, engine, landing gear, and parachutes.

New Shepard’s engine is fuelled by highly efficient liquid oxygen and hydrogen. During the flight, the only byproduct is water vapour with no carbon emissions, the company earlier said.

Blue Origin released the NS-25 mission patch. A few of the symbols embedded include: The Gemini spacecraft represents Dwight’s aerospace training era. The hand lifting of the crew capsule is a nod to his extensive artwork.

The sunrise represents Angel and Schaller’s desire to experience the overview effect. The mountains symbolise Schaller, Thotakura, and Chiron’s passion for climbing and skiing.

Jeff Bezos’ space company had paused its suborbital tourism programme following a liftoff malfunction of the New Shepard rocket. In September 2022, an uncrewed flight of New Shepard ended in flames around a minute after liftoff.

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