Now that both Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have made it back from space, one thing is certain—the race for space has officially begun. And it seems like we might soon have ourselves another space enthusiast coming in third place; 49-year old Indian entrepreneur Santhosh George Kulangara.
The traveller, publisher, founder and directing manager of Safari TV—a channel dedicated to travel and history-based programmes—is often described as a “household name in Kerala.” Kulangara also serves as the head of Labour India, an educational publisher based in Marangattupilly in the Kottayam district. “As of 2021, Kulangara has travelled to more than 130 countries and his experiences and sights of journeys are telecasted through Sancharam, the first visual travelogue in Malayalam,” reads his Wikipedia page.
With over 1,800 episodes of aired travel documentaries under his belt, the media personality is now embarking on yet another journey as India’s first space tourist. Kulangara’s entanglement with space tourism dates back to 2005 when, during a visit to England, he noticed a newspaper advertisement inviting applications for space travel.
The advert discussed giving the average person a chance to go where no other tourist had gone before in a mission planned by Branson. Without overthinking it, Kulangara decided to apply. Several rounds of interviews and contract signings followed but in 2007, he was finally accepted into Virgin Galactic’s space tourism programme.
Although his voyage to space was supposed to happen a lot sooner, the space programme found itself riddled with setbacks including failed launches, and more recently a pandemic to contend with. But with Branson’s launch turning out to be a success, Kulangara’s turn can’t be too far away now. It is unclear whether he will board one of Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft this year or the next but what is certain is his determination to document every aspect of the journey for what will effectively be an audience of millions back home.
Speaking to Times of India earlier this month, the documentarian said, “For me, even moments leading to this experience are quite thrilling—be it doing the little preparations, getting to meet personalities like Richard Branson, the thoughts on how it might change my life—all of it. And though we will not be allowed to go out and experience things like spacewalks, we can do the same within the ship too. I will also be able to capture at least 90 per cent of the experience on my camera, to bring it back for my audience.”
Santhosh has admitted that it’s been difficult to maintain the original levels of excitement he felt following his selection over a decade ago. But having undergone rigorous training to withstand G-forces and acclimatise to weightlessness, he is hopeful that he will soon be able to follow in the footsteps of Branson and Bezos—none of them will be counted as astronauts though.
“Only four people can travel in one flight. Each batch will be decided based on various criteria. As of now, I know that I will be in one of the early flights to space and the first Indian to do so,” he added.
The time has finally come, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is jetting off to space this afternoon. Blue Origin—Bezos’ privately held space company—is finally ready for its first human spaceflight. The passengers are Bezos himself, his brother Mark Bezos, trailblazing pilot Wally Funk and teenager Oliver Daemen. The flight will see the passengers float in microgravity for a few minutes before making a swift return back to Earth—sorry, the petition to keep him there didn’t work.
The entirety of their trip—from beginning to end—will be shown through an online live stream on the Blue Origin website. The live stream will begin at 7.30 a.m. ET or 12.30 p.m. GMT—with the expected takeoff scheduled for 9 a.m. ET and 2 p.m. in the UK. Get the popcorn ready, another billionaire is going to fly around space and try to relate to us—I’m looking at you, Richard Branson.
Bezos, Branson and Musk have quite obviously been criticised for these expensive trips and investment in space travel while there is huge inequality and a climate crisis that needs dealing with. Taking a closer look at the Moon can wait. And apparently he agrees? Well, not quite.
When asked directly for a response to this criticism, Bezos told CNN, “They’re largely right, we have to do both. You know, we have lots of problems here and now on Earth and we need to work on those, and we always need to look to the future. We’ve always done that.” He continued by saying that the mission’s goal was to build “a road to space for the next generations to do amazing things here, and those amazing things will solve problems here on Earth.”
Now call me crazy, but I don’t think you need to spend billions on an 11 minute joyride just so maybe someone in the future finds something cool. You could just help Earth now—or let’s start small, shall we? Help your employees, Bezos. Robert Reich, Professor at Berkeley University, and avid billionaire critic wrote on Twitter, “Billionaires rocketing off to space isn’t a sign of progress. It’s a sign of grotesque inequality that allows a select few to leave Earth behind while the rest of humanity suffers.”
Reich continued stating that “the next time someone claims billionaires rocketing off to space is a sign of societal progress and heroism, remind them there are basically four ways to accumulate a billion dollars in America: profiting from a monopoly, insider trading, political payoffs and inheritance.”
Reich couldn’t be more accurate. When telling CNN about the “next generations” who will do amazing things, Bezos gestures to teenager Daeman. “Maybe it will be Oliver, he’s eighteen, maybe he’ll found a space company that uses the infrastructure that this generation is building right now.” Daeman, however, is no ordinary teenager. Not initially a part of the flight, Daeman’s seat opened up when a mystery millionaire—the winner of the open auction—who paid $28 million backed out. Daeman’s father was second in line and so the ticket was passed over to him. Although the price has not been revealed, there are obvious assumptions that it’s close to the highest bid of $28 million. Rich people, am I right?