Entrepreneur and pilot Gopi Thotakura made history on Sunday as the first Indian space tourist, joining Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin on the New Shepard (NS-25) mission. Thotakura was one of six crew members selected for this flight for Blue Origin’s NS-25 mission, making him the second Indian to venture into space, following the Indian Army’s Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma's journey in 1984.

Blue Origin’s seventh human flight, NS-25, launched from West Texas’ Launch Site One on Sunday morning, as announced on social media. This mission marked the 25th flight in the New Shepard program's history, which has so far taken 31 humans beyond the Kármán line, the recognised boundary of outer space. The New Shepard is a reusable suborbital vehicle designed for space tourism by Blue Origin.

“A big thank you to our astronaut customers for the opportunity to provide this life-changing experience. Each of you are pioneers helping to advance our mission to build a road to space for the benefit of Earth,” said Phil Joyce, senior vice president, New Shepard.

Thotakura, who learned to fly before he could drive, co-founded Preserve Life Corp, a wellness centre near Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport. He has extensive piloting experience, flying everything from commercial jets to bush planes, aerobatic aircraft, seaplanes, gliders, and hot air balloons. He has also served as an international medical jet pilot. An avid adventurer, Thotakura recently climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Originally from Andhra Pradesh, he graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The NS-25 crew included Mason Angel, Sylvain Chiron, Kenneth L. Hess, Carol Schaller, and Ed Dwight, a former Air Force Captain who was the first black astronaut candidate selected by President Kennedy in 1961 but never flew to space.

During the flight, each astronaut carried a postcard for Blue Origin’s Club for the Future, a program that encourages students to explore space through creative postcard submissions, aiming to inspire careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics).

Environmentally, New Shepard reuses nearly 99% of its dry mass, including key components like the booster and capsule. Its engine uses efficient liquid oxygen and hydrogen, producing only water vapour as a byproduct, with no carbon emissions.

The NS-25 mission patch featured various symbols: the Gemini spacecraft symbolising Dwight’s aerospace era, a hand lifting the capsule referencing his artwork, a sunrise for Angel and Schaller’s overview effect aspirations, and mountains representing the climbing passions of Schaller, Thotakura, and Chiron. Blue Origin had previously paused its tourism program after a New Shepard malfunction in September 2022. In September 2022, a New Shepard uncrewed flight burst into flames roughly one minute after liftoff. 

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