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.