“It was amazing…you have to see it with your eyes,” Gopichand Thotakura after Blue Origin tour

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Captain Gopichand Thotakura, the first Indian ever to tour the edge of space on Blue Origin’s seventh crewed flight mission, expressed his awe after the experience. “It was amazing… you have to see it with your eyes,” said the Vijayawada-born pilot upon exiting the space capsule.

The reusable New Shepard rocket lifted off at 8:06 pm IST from Launch Site One in West Texas. During its 11-minute flight, it carried a six-person crew beyond the Karman line, an internationally recognized boundary of space located 100 km above Earth’s surface.

“I can’t describe how it is to look into space… everybody should go to space. It was good to see Earth from the other side,” Thotakura said. “I think every person on the planet should get to witness the sight.”

Thotakura is a lifelong pilot and aviator who learned how to fly before he could drive. He flies jets commercially, in addition to piloting bush, aerobatic, and seaplanes.

The seventh human flight mission by Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin also included 90-year-old Ed Dwight, Mason Angel, Sylvain Chiron, Kenneth L. Hess, and Carol Schaller. Former Air Force Captain Ed Dwight, selected by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as the nation’s first Black astronaut candidate, never had the opportunity to fly until now.

This mission marked Blue Origin’s seventh human spaceflight and the 25th flight for the New Shepard program. New Shepard has now flown 37 people into space, including the latest crew.

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

Thotakura is not the first to enjoy the short space ride. On July 11, 2021, Indian American Sirisha Bandla, vice president of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic boarded VSS Unity 22 along with Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and two other crewmates and two pilots, the first private spacecraft to debut in space. The Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico and reached the 100-km altitude. It returned to the base after a flight of about 90 minutes.

Two days after Branson’s flight, on July 22, Blue Origin debuted in space.

But unlike astronauts, Kalpana Chawla, Sunita Pandya Williams, and Rakesh Sharma, the flights of Thotakura and Bandla did not go into orbit, however, both Bezos and Branson flights are a breakthrough in the commercialization of space travel by private entrepreneurs.

 

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