The 2005 ad was intended to give the common man a chance to explore space through a new mission from Branson. A globetrotter who has visited around 130 countries, Santhosh thought, why not give it a try. He sent a letter to the organizers, who, after many rounds of interviews, tests and contracts, roped the 49-year-old Malayali to join the mission, in 2007.
Failed test missions, multiple approval cycles, and the pandemic delayed the new mission. But recently, it was announced that after Branson and his team – which will include Indian-born astronaut Sirisha Bandla – complete their first tour of the mission on July 11, tourists, including Santhosh, will fly into space in a few months. In a conversation, the man, known for the popular TV show Sancharam, tells us about his preparations, space plans and more. Extracts …
Did you have any idea in 2007 that the trip would be delayed for so many years?
No, we were originally told it would happen by 2010. We had even completed the zero gravity experience training, the training to understand mission ships and more. But then there were a few setbacks, including plane crashes on test flights and the deaths of pilots, which delayed the mission as they had to go through another round of approvals, testing, funding. and more. A few tourists even backed down. Without the pandemic, our flight would have been at least six months ago. I guess the recent announcement from industrialist Jeff Bezos about his Blue Origin initiative, also in flight on July 20, further accelerated our project.
What was the most difficult part of the preparation?
The G Tolerance workout, which makes you feel an increase in your body weight, at least eight times, was quite difficult. It makes you feel like someone is pushing all the fluids out of your system and it’s excruciating! Compared to that, dealing with weightlessness was not difficult. The experience of weightlessness, which makes you feel weightless, confuses you a bit after you return to gravity. We were all allowed a certain body weight and since mine was a bit above that level, I worked on it with a trainer, in addition to doing regular breathing exercises and checkups.
You said earlier: “What we see the most in space is just its stillness in the dark, and what the Earth looks like from space …” In this case, what part of the journey are you looking forward to?
For me, even the moments leading up to this experience are pretty exciting – from doing the little preparations, meeting people like Richard Branson, thinking about how it could change my lifeâ¦ all of that. And while we weren’t allowed to go out and experience things like spacewalks, we were told we could do the same inside the ship as well. Hopefully, as always, I can also capture at least 90% of the experience on my camera, to bring it back to my audience.
You also said that it is better to die in space, rather than on our streets. You are also known for writing how things should be done in case you don’t come back from a trip. How is your family reacting to all of this?
They are all very united. In fact, they too are enjoying this whole process with me.
Did you meet Indian-born astronaut Sirisha Bandla, who is also on the July 11 flight?
No, but I know she’s in charge of government relations which is part of the mission to investigate and make sure things are in order as per the contract with the space tourists, which is great.