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Billionaires to Film Stars: 2021 Was the Year of Non-astronauts Flying to Space

Unlike the 20th century, space is not exclusive to governments anymore.

Unlike the 20th century, space is not exclusive to governments anymore.

Here are some of the civilians who went to space in 2021, who they are and what they did.

When the first human set out for space, mankind could have scarcely expected that towards the end of 2021, space tourism would have become an up and coming industry in the world. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. On April 12, 1961, aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1, Gagarin had been accompanied by a 27-year-old test pilot and industrial technician. As per NASA, Gagarin made a a 108-minute orbital flight in his Vostok 1 spacecraft. Within the span of another month, Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space. The first Indian to go to space was Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma, a former Indian Air Force pilot who flew to space aboard Soyuz T-11 on 3 April 1984 as part of the Soviet Interkosmos programme. Since then, we have come a long way in space travel, with billionaires of the world now jetting off to the beyond in what feels like every other week. Space tourism is now an up and coming industry, but back in the day, Sharma’s feat was an extraordinary first for the country.

Between 2001 and 2009, seven space tourists accomplished a similar feat. They flew aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, brokered by Space Adventures along with Roscosmos and RSC Energia. On July 11 and July 20 this year, two billionaires, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos voyaged in a first-of-its-kind trip to space with an all-civilian crew. It implies that, unlike the 20th century, space is not exclusive to governments anymore. Here are some of the civilians who went to space in 2021.

Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla and others

On July 11, 70-year-old British billionaire on Richard Branson jetted off to space in what can only be called an ambitious project that turned reality aboard the Virgin Galactic ‘Unity 22’ spaceflight. “Congratulations to all our wonderful team at Virgin Galactic for 17 years of hard hard work to get us this far,” Branson said during a live feed as the VSS Unity spaceship glided back to Spaceport America in New Mexico. It reached a peak altitude of around 53 miles (85 kilometers), beyond the boundary of space according to the United States, allowing the passengers to experience weightlessness and admire the Earth’s curvature.

Sirisha Bandla became the second India-born woman to fly to space. She was one of the six space travellers aboard ‘VSS Unity’ of Virgin Galactic that blasted off to space on July 11 from New Mexico. After achieving this feat, Bandla had said, “I am taking a bit of India up there with me”.

Jeff Bezos and crew

On July 20, a Blue Origin capsule carrying Jeff Bezos, his younger brother Mark, an 82-year-old female pilot, and a high school graduate touched down in the west Texas desert after breaching the boundary of space, the company’s live broadcast showed.

SpaceX Falcon 9

In September, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying four space tourists blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the first mission to orbit the globe with an all-civilian crew. The civilians included Jared Isaacman, the founder and CEO of Shift4Payments; Hayley Arceneaux, a 29-year-old child cancer survivor and physician assistant at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Chris Sembroski, a data engineer at aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp in Everett, Washington; and Dr Sian Proctor, an entrepreneur, educator, trained pilot and active voice in the space exploration community.

Russian film actors

Russia sent a film crew, including famous Russian actor, Yulia Peresild, and director, Klim Shipenko, to shoot a film titled ‘Vyzov.’ She became the first professional actor to pay a visit to the International Space Station. The crew spent 12 days in the ISS shooting scenes of the film. Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin also sent a celebrity to space, though the duration was not as long as the Russian actors. William Shatner, who is famously known for his role of Captain Kirk in the Sci-fi saga, Star Trek, spent a brief period of time beyond the boundary of space, the Karman Line, on the New Shepard.

Yusaku Maezawa and a Uber Eats delivery

Uber Eats recently made history by delivering food to space. Teaming up with Japanese fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa, the company sent ready-to-eat canned Japanese food for the astronauts at the International Space Station. Yusaku went to outer space in a Soyuz spacecraft for a 12-day mission at the International Space Station. The spacecraft, along with the Japanese billionaire, was carrying a special package by Uber Eats, a brown bag containing canned Japanese dishes.

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first published:December 26, 2021, 12:47 IST