Magazine article New African

East Africa's First Astronaut: Ashish Thakkar, an East African-Born Businessman, Cannot Wait to Board SpaceshipTwo, the Virgin Galactic Vessel That Will Soon Be Transporting Him and Other Tourists into Space on the World's First Commercial Passenger Spaceship, Reports Agnes Asiimwe

Magazine article New African

East Africa's First Astronaut: Ashish Thakkar, an East African-Born Businessman, Cannot Wait to Board SpaceshipTwo, the Virgin Galactic Vessel That Will Soon Be Transporting Him and Other Tourists into Space on the World's First Commercial Passenger Spaceship, Reports Agnes Asiimwe

Article excerpt

Ashish Thakkar, the managing director of the Mara Group of companies, describes his upcoming space odyssey as "a little crazy, exciting". He says the need to represent his home region was a major factor for joining the adventure. "The most special thing for me is representing our countries. I hope that our countries will get some real positive buzz about it." The trip is expected to pave the way for the start of frequent space tourism flights and allow people from around the world to buy tickets and experience space for themselves.

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Thakkar says he is "passionate" about East Africa. At the age of I2, he moved from the UK to Africa. He has lived in Uganda most of his life. His father and grandmother were born in Uganda, his mother was born in Mwanza, Tanzania, but the family lived in Kenya where Thakkar partly went to school. The family also lived in Rwanda and went through the genocide and were refugees for a few weeks.

"Our family history goes back 100 years in East Africa," he says. Thakkar is however a British citizen who now resides in the United Arab Emirates and travels frequently to East Africa.

At the age of 15, he set up his first business, RAPS, a computer shop and dropped out of school to focus on it. Today, the company is working in 13 countries and has expanded into packaging, hospitality, renewable energy and real estate. In January 2009, its businesses were put under one umbrella company--Mara Group.

Thakkar was in China 18 months ago when he saw the Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson's space initiative on the news. He became interested, and after a series of phone calls, Branson offered him the position of founder astronaut for East Africa.

Since then it has been an exciting time of training, dieting and exercising to prepare his body for the rigours of space. "[The experience] is intensive and amazing, and you have to keep really fit," he says.

He has always been a pure vegetarian, so the health and fitness part was easy. However, the pressure of zero gravity on the body requires hard work.

As part of the training, 81 founder astronauts/tourists, including Thakkar, were put into a replica fuselage of the spaceship cabin they will travel in to allow them to experience the G-forces they will encounter during the actual flight. Many of the tourists, aged 22 to 88, fulfilled the training successfully.

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A mother ship, named VMS Eve after Branson's mother, will take off from a spaceport in New Mexico, USA, carrying SpaceshipTwo beneath it to an altitude of 50,000ft, a level that is above most of the earth's atmosphere. …

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