Thursday, March 15, 2007


India’s first space tourist ready to fly

Neelesh Misra

New Delhi, March 14, 2007

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By the time you read this, Santhosh George would have told his daughter a secret he has been keeping from her for weeks: not too long from now, he could become a spaceman.

The 35-year-old, who runs a small publishing company at Marangattupilly village near Kottayam in Kerala, has also signed up to become India’s first space tourist, with a confirmed seat aboard the VSS Enterprise spacecraft, from Richard-Branson’s Virgin Galactic company.

"I can confirm that Santhosh George Kulangara has signed up to fly with Virgin Galactic," Louella Faria-Jones, an official of the company, told the Hindustan Times. She said that apart from George, two US-based Indian Americans have also signed up for the flight.

George will travel on board SpaceShipTwo, which has large windows, reclining seats, cabins the size of a Falcon 900 executive jet and wings approximately the size of a Boeing 757. It will carry six passengers and two pilots, Faria-Jones said. In 2004, SpaceShipOne, a prototype of the space vehicle, had already flown to space three times, she added. With its space flights, the company hopes to begin a new era in tourism in just under the next two years.

George, who will have to pay Rs 1 crore for the two-hour flight, said that he has already made a part payment of about Rs 10 lakh. He travels to Paris in May to begin the formalities.

"Travelling is my passion. I have traveled to 50 countries, from one end of the planet to the other… Nothing excites me any more. So going to space was the next target," an excited George said over the telephone from his village.

"My wife has encouraged me for 10 years. Of course, space is something different. But this is an opportunity of a lifetime," he said, and added: "My daughter does not know yet. But if you are going to publish this, I will have to tell her tonight."

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