Exclusive interview: Gopi Thotakura, India's 1st space tourist, shares experience onboard Blue Origin NS-25 - Hindustan Times
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Exclusive interview: Gopi Thotakura, India's 1st space tourist, shares experience onboard Blue Origin NS-25

By | Edited by Aniruddha Dhar
May 22, 2024 03:25 PM IST

Interview: Gopi Thotakura is the first Indian space tourist on Blue Origin's private astronaut launch.

Gopi Thotakura became the first Indian space tourist on Sunday, flying aboard Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin NS-25 mission to Kármán line – an altitude of around 100 kilometres. In an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, the Andhra-born entrepreneur and pilot talked about his unique journey. 

Gopi Thotakura, the first Indian space tourist, took on a 11-minute space flight on Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin NS-25 mission.
Gopi Thotakura, the first Indian space tourist, took on a 11-minute space flight on Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin NS-25 mission.

Here are the edited excerpts:  

ALSO READ- In a first, Indian pilot Gopi Thotakura takes space tour on Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin flight

Like Indira Gandhi asked first Indian astronaut Rakesh Sharma, could you see India from space?

No, it was a suborbital flight launched from Texas, so India wasn't visible. I did look for it, but I only saw the Atlantic Ocean and parts of Europe. A full orbit would have provided a view of India.

Who actually is Gopi Thotakura?

I was born in Vijayawada. I recently moved top to the US due to Covid to pursue business opportunities. My roots remain firmly Indian, with my family, schooling, and early career all in India. I pursued schooling in several Indian cities and later, studied aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Aviation has always been my passion, leading me to work as a medical and commercial pilot, flying various aircraft, including World War II planes. After years of dedication, I achieved my dream of going to space, representing India on a suborbital flight. This journey taught me that no dream is too big, and I now aspire to inspire others to dream boldly, regardless of obstacles.

How was your experience of 11 minutes of the space flight?

The beauty of the majestic blue ball, as I call it, is something I cannot describe, it has to be seen, it has to be lived in the moment, and then it will change you forever.

Every Indian needs to go to space to see what it looks like.

The experience is indescribable, an exhilarating journey of weightlessness and awe-inspiring views. And I didn't realise it until I got the first glimpse of the curvature of the majestic blue ball, and then I realised that we are missing on something, it is to realise how fortunate we are to be living, standing, playing, sleeping here on this planet.

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Gopi Thotakura on Blue Origin NS-25 mission.
Gopi Thotakura on Blue Origin NS-25 mission.

How does one get selected for a space tourism flight? Are there qualifying criteria?

Yeah, there is training. You have physical training. There's a mental aspect to it. Can you handle the shock? The awe? The potential for freezing under pressure? These are just some of the considerations.

I think what really has to happen is that organisations and not the But above it, we need determination. We have some of the most brilliant minds in the country, we need to push them to start their dreams.

When I held the Indian flag, it floated away—just very lightly; there was no push. This little opening factor, if it is provided to the brilliant minds in India, we can really make the world look at us.

ALSO READ- Gopi Thotakura proudly displays Indian flag in space on board Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin. Watch

Who can help? 

Everyone – governments, investors, private venture capitalists. Cost is actually the last factor.

In training, astronauts are cautioned against pushing off too forcefully from the capsule walls, lest they collide with the opposite side—a reminder that sometimes, the gentle nudges propel us forward. Similarly, we Indians need a little push.

Gopi Thotakura holding Indian flag during Blue Origin NS-25 mission.
Gopi Thotakura holding Indian flag during Blue Origin NS-25 mission.

How is India faring in space programmes, and how behind are we from our counterparts?

I believe India is not lagging behind in space programs at all. Our achievement of placing Chandrayaan 3 on the moon's South Pole at a fraction of the cost of other agencies like NASA showcases our progress.

We don't need foreign agencies. We have agencies in India that can buy foreign agencies that are investing.By bridging the gap between innovative minds and entrepreneurs, India can surpass expectations. Just like one fine day, the world woke up to see that India went to the South Pole of the moon, we have the potential to excel in numerous space endeavours.

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Many argue that in a developing country, a space tourism programme shouldn't be a priority.

The significance of space tourism flights is for the benefit of Earth. Forget the planet, protect India. We must preserve our resources and opportunities for generations to come. Experiencing space firsthand is essential to truly understand its importance. You need to go up there to see what it looks like. And unless you do it, no movie or no globe on your desk will ever be able to convey its importance to you.

ALSO READ- Indian space industry offers tremendous opportunity for private players, says ISRO chief

Gopi Thotakura says its essential to see Earth to save it.
Gopi Thotakura says its essential to see Earth to save it.

What would you say to a teenager who is in, say, class 10th or so?

Unless you dream, it won't happen, and don't let anybody take those dreams away just because some individual has shot them down because they were too far-fetched.

My dad always pushed me to the end, and he said, dream, dream big. And I always said, one day I will be in space. That one day came now but I thought about it from a very, very, very long time.

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