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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Kerala-based media entrepreneur shells out Rs 1.8 crore to become India’s first space tourist

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A Kerala-based media entrepreneur and travel chronicler always wanted to travel to space. Santhosh George Kulangara is shelling out a massive amount to realise that dream as part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic mission. Kulangara became the first Indian who was chosen to join the team as a paid tourist in 2007. 

Space tourism has suddenly become a popular phrase after billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson took suborbital space flights with their separate enterprises.

The lone explorer and entrepreneur from Kerala, Kulangara, is the founder of Safari TV, a one-of-a-kind travel and exploration channel, and is now a part-time member of the Kerala State Planning Board.

He is preparing for the historic space flight which is certainly extremely different from any of the more than 130 countries he has so far visited.

In an interview with the media, Kulangara called space tourism a purely futuristic business. He said this has the potential to be the next big thing for mankind. According to him, Europe is this rich because the people there were adventurous and went to other lands and conquered them. Like that, space tourism is an investment for the future,  Kulangara said.

He said, “We should think about a future when the resources on planet earth are no more enough to sustain all the human beings here. If there is a company experienced in travelling to space and other planets and capable of doing explorations, wouldn’t they stand to benefit from that situation? I foresee colonisation of other planets and initiatives such as space tourism are just means to that end.”

Kulangara stated he was on a train in the United Kingdom in 2005 when he saw an advertisement in a newspaper left by another passenger. The ad said  Richard Branson was inviting people to join his firm’s space journey.

 Kulangara said, “I already knew about Branson and had huge admiration for him. I was immediately interested. I took that newspaper with me and after returning home, sent a mail to Branson’s company. I told them of my background that I am someone who does travel documentaries. There were a few telephonic interviews and even they seemed to be happy to have a mediaperson with them. But there were some bureaucratic hurdles as I needed the Indian government’s permission to join the trip to space. Finally, I was officially enrolled as the first space tourist from India in 2007.”

Asked about the cost of the journey for him, he said this will be the costliest trip for me till now. Kulangara is paying nearly Rs 1.8 crore ( $ .25 million) for the trip apart from training costs and other expenses. 

He said, “It might seem like a huge amount. But worth it for the experience and the historical significance. I know I’m going to become the first Indian space tourist. Isn’t that enough incentive? When I was at the Kennedy Space Center in the United States undergoing the training, I felt like I had reached the top of the world. The get-togethers involving celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Leonardo DiCaprio at the Mojave desert, getting to know personalities like Richard Branson, you pay for these experiences. Many spend this much money to buy houses right? It’s not a huge amount. It’s all about one’s perspective. If I had thought like everyone else, I would not have been able to do even one episode of Sancharam (his travel show which has crossed 1500 episodes).”

Virgin has still not confirmed when he will take to space and if more training is required for the same, but Kulangara believes that his long-cherished ambition of space flight is only a few months away.

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