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Indian pilot becomes first to venture into space as tourist on Blue Origin’s return flight

Gopi Thotakura, an entrepreneur and commercial pilot, is one among the crew of six people who went to space of Blue Origin return flight. The mission was brief raising the count of the companies private astronaut headcount to 37.

Edited By: Shubham Bajpai Texas Published on: May 19, 2024 21:20 IST
Indian pilot Gopi Thotakura
Image Source : X Indian pilot Gopi Thotakura

Gopi Thotakura, the Indian pilot, becomes the first to fly as a tourist to space on Blue Origin’s return flight. He embarked on the space journey from a site in Texas on Jeff Bezos-founded space company Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket on Sunday.

An entrepreneur and a pilot, Gopi was selected as one of the six crew members for the mission, making him the first Indian space tourist and the second Indian to go into space after the Indian Army's Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma in 1984.

How was the mission proceeded?

A crew of six people seated in a capsule atop a New Shepard rocket were launched from the company's remote Van Horn, Texas launch facilities. The rocket first separated from the capsule, and the crew capsule then further ascended beyond the boundary of Earth's atmosphere to 65.7 miles (105.7 km). The gumdrop-shaped pod then returned to Earth, capping a brief mission. Later, the booster landed back on Earth.

The crew members were expected to unfasten their safety belts and float around the gumdrop-shaped pod for a few minutes due to the lack of gravity in the space before the capsule descends back to land under parachutes, capping the mission. The mission increased Blue Origin's private astronaut headcount to 37. New Shepard crew included first Black astronaut. 

The New Shepard crew also included Ed Dwight (90), the first Black astronaut who was picked by former U.S. President John Kennedy in 1961 to train as an astronaut, but never flew to space. All crew members, except Dwight, are paying customers of Blue Origin's space tourism business. Dwight's seat was sponsored by a space-focused nonprofit and a private foundation. 

New Shepard was grounded in 2022

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket was grounded in September 2022 due to a mid-flight failure caused by a structural issue in the engine nozzle during an uncrewed research mission. Following an investigation by the company and scrutiny from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which mandated corrective actions, New Shepard resumed flights in December 2023. 

With Dave Limp as the new CEO, succeeding Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin aims to enhance its competitive stance against SpaceX. Besides focusing on New Shepard's missions, the company prioritises the launch of New Glenn, a larger reusable rocket, to rival SpaceX's Falcon 9. Developmental delays have plagued New Glenn, but a debut launch from Florida is anticipated by year-end. Limp is driving efforts to expedite production of the BE-4 engines, crucial for both New Glenn and United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket.

(WIth Reuters Inputs)

ALSO READ | Gopi Thotakura set to become India's first space tourist in Jeff Bezos' mission | Who is he?

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