S’porean lawyer set for space trip

20140829_SimonTan.jpg

S’porean lawyer set for space trip
A photo of lawyer Simon Tan.

SINGAPORE - As a young boy, he grew up on a diet of cartoons like Astro Boy, which featured characters in space.

He harboured the childhood fantasy of going into space one day.

That will soon turn into a flight of fancy for lawyer Simon Tan (right). The 49-year-old is now set to be one of the first Singaporeans in space.

He was among the lucky ones who managed to snag a ticket on a two-seater space shuttle - thanks to a collaboration between watch brand Luminox and space shuttle developer XCOR Space Expeditions. (See report above.)

In a phone interview on Thursday, Mr Tan told The New Paper that he had heard of this golden opportunity from a friend who works in Luminox.

"When he told me a year ago, everything was still in the pipeline. I really didn't think much about it," he said.

But when he was approached again by the friend recently, the lawyer knew he had to grab the chance.

"I never knew that it was possible. The costs involved are quite prohibitive.

"You may have to mortgage your house, or even give up a lot of things in life just to make this trajectory into space," Mr Tan said.

COST

While it is not known how much the ticket to space will cost, TNP understands that it is cheaper than the US$250,000 (S$310,000) space flight offered by Virgin Galactic, a privately funded space company owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments PJS.

Mr Tan said: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that anyone would just jump at. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine going beyond the earth's atmosphere.

"If I can do something short of landing on the moon, I would do it."

While he does not know when exactly he would set off on his journey, the excitement was evident in his voice as he spoke about the preparations for his space trip.

"I will have to learn to cook with weightlessness, and there are some fitness requirements. Apart from that, I suppose I don't know what else to expect," he said.

To Mr Tan, it is not so much wanting to be among the select few to get to a much coveted destination.

"To be the first - that has never, ever occurred to me. It's the thought of doing something different, something I always wanted to do," he said.

Some may hesitate at taking this road less travelled as it is an uncharted frontier. But he is undeterred.

In space, Mr Tan said, he would want to "look at Earth with all its wonders".

"I will be grateful for my very own existence and the opportunity given to me, and see Earth from a different perspective to remind myself of how small we are.

"The chance to hover at such a high altitude above the Earth's atmosphere is a treat in itself," he said.

The lawyer, whose passion lies in photography, also hopes to snap pictures in space.

Free Time

In his free time, he would use his telephoto lens to take pictures of the distant night sky. But with the possibility of going to space, he is now greedy for more.

"To be very honest, even with these telephoto lenses, you can never get close enough.

"It can never be purer than taking such objects from beyond the earth's atmosphere. You don't have to contend with light pollution.

"Anyone would pay whatever he could afford to see them. It's a dream come true for any photographer," he said.

Nobody knows about his decision to go to space yet.

"Many people may say, 'Why don't we wait for more tests to be conducted, and wait for others to take the road less travelled?' But I don't know whether the opportunity will come my way again.

"Or maybe it will become so commercialised that it loses its allure. So before it loses that sparkle, why not?"

His parting shot: "To borrow the phrase from Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear, 'To infinity... and beyond!'"

ABOUT THE SPACE SHUTTLE

The opportunity for Mr Simon Tan was made possible by the partnership between well-known watch brand Luminox and XCOR Space Expeditions, which develops commercially viable space shuttles - the XCOR Lynx space shuttle - for consumers.

Another lucky Singaporean will be given the chance to pilot a space craft into near space - more than 20km above sea level - on National Day next year, according to plans by the Science Centre Board, the Singapore Space and Technology Association, and IN.Genius, a local firm focusing on high-tech energy solutions.

The XCOR Lynx space shuttle is a fully reusable liquid rocket-powered spacecraft that will take off and land horizontally. It can fly multiple times a day, every day.

The two-seater space vehicle will take off from a spaceport in Curaçao, an island in the southern Caribbean Sea.

Accommodating only the pilot and a passenger, it promises to fly 103km into space, beyond the internationally recognised boundary of 100km between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space. As it can land safely on land, it will be cheaper to operate over the long term.

When the first space flights on the XCOR Lynx are launched at the end of next year, Singaporeans with deep pockets can purchase a ticket to space. The New Paper understands that a few hundred people over the world have signed up for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

fjieying@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 29, 2014.
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