Andhra Pradesh-born US entrepreneur Gopi Thotakura to become first Indian space tourist

Gopi Thotakura, an entrepreneur and a pilot, is set to become the first Indian to venture into space as a tourist. Born in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and now based in the United States, he is part of the NS-25 flight mission, to be executed by Blue Origin, the company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Entrepreneur Gopi Thotakura
Indian-origin aviator and US-based entrepreneur Gopi Thotakura to become first Indian space tourist. Photo courtesy: X/@sudhakarudumula

Thotakura was selected as one of the six crew members for the mission, making him the first Indian space tourist and the second Indian to venture into space after the Indian Army’s Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma in 1984.

In between, American astronaut Kalpana Chawla had become the first Indian-origin woman to fly to space in 1997. She died in 2003 along with six fellow astronauts on board the shuttle Columbia, which was destroyed upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

For the mission that includes Thotakura, the flight date is yet to be announced, according to Blue Origin.

This mission will be the seventh human flight for the New Shepard programme of Blue Origin, and the 25th in its history. To date, the programme has flown 31 humans above the Karman line, the proposed conventional boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

Blue Origin rocket
The New Shepard rocket operated by Blue Origin, an aerospace company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Photo courtesy: X/@sudhakarudumula

New Shepard is a fully reusable sub-orbital launch vehicle developed for space tourism by Blue Origin.

The aerospace company said: “Gopi is a pilot and aviator who learned how to fly before he could drive.”

The Indian-born entrepreneur is the co-founder of Preserve Life Corp, a centre for holistic wellness and applied health, located near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. He is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

In addition to flying jets commercially, Thotakura pilots bush, aerobatic, and seaplanes, as well as gliders and hot air balloons, and has served as an international medical jet pilot.

A lifelong traveller, his most recent adventure took Thotakura to the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

New Shepard space programme

Other crew members of the NS-25 spaceflight include Mason Angel, Sylvain Chiron, Kenneth L. Hess, Carol Schaller, and former Air Force Captain Ed Dwight, who was selected by President John F Kennedy in 1961 as the first black astronaut candidate of the United States, but never got the opportunity to fly to space.

During the flight, each astronaut will carry a postcard to space on behalf of Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future. This programme gives students access to space on Blue Origin’s rockets, including an all-digital method to create and send postcards.

The Club’s mission is to inspire and mobilise future generations to pursue careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) for the benefit of Earth.

From an environmental standpoint, nearly 99 per cent of New Shepard’s dry mass is reused, including the booster, capsule, engine, landing gear, and parachutes.

New Shepard’s engine is fuelled by highly efficient liquid oxygen and hydrogen. During the flight, the only byproduct was water vapour with no carbon emissions, the company said.