Who is Gopi Thotakura, India's first space tourist? Know more

India's first space tourist Gopi Thotakura (left) with other crew members of Blue Origin. Photo: PTI

A 30-year-old aviator from Vijayawada became the first Indian space tourist on Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin's seventh human flight. Gopi Thotakura, an entrepreneur and a pilot, on Sunday ventured into space as one of the six crew members on Blue Origin's NS-25 mission. He is the second Indian to venture into space after the Indian Army's Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma in 1984. The flight lifted off from Launch Site One in West Texas on Sunday morning, the company announced on social media. This mission was part of the 'New Shepard programme' of Blue Origin 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.

Who is Gopi?
Blue Origin describes Gopi as "A pilot and aviator who learned how to fly before he could drive." He 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. He is also a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Other crew members of the flight include Mason Angel, Sylvain Chiron, Kenneth L. Hess, Carol Schaller, 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 was never granted the opportunity to fly to space. The rocket booster landed safely a couple of minutes prior to the capsule, CNN reported. During the mission, the crew soared to more than three times the speed of sound. The rocket vaulted the capsule past the Krmn line, an area 100 kilometres above Earth's surface that is widely recognized as the altitude at which outer space begins but there's a lot of grey area, the channel said.

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.

Mission after a break
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. 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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