SINGAPORE: Some might consider it a crazy idea, but local maverick Lim Seng thinks it's anything but.
After an aborted attempt in 2015, his tech company IN.Genius will this May launch its mission to send the first Singaporean into space.
The historic mission will take place at Alice Springs in Australia, where a yet-to-be-revealed Singaporean will be strapped in a capsule attached to a helium stratospheric balloon.
The plan is for the capsule to pass what is known as the Armstrong Line - 20km above sea-level - where survivable atmosphere ends and the uninhabitable void of outer space begins.
“There will always be sceptics but we must stay focused and clear on the strategic vision – to inspire Singaporeans that we can indeed take risks and responsibilities in sending the first Singaporean into space,” Mr Lim said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia.
PREPARED FOR LIFT-OFF
The initial plan was to launch the mission in 2015, in conjunction with Singapore's 50th birthday celebrations, but that had to be scrapped due to an equipment issue.
The team has since used the time to improve on its plan “to ensure a 200 per cent safe life support system”.
According to Mr Lim, there had been “many technical complexities” to deal with.
“In space, there are many hazards. You can’t have too little oxygen, and neither can you have too much oxygen. We learned from ‘Apollo 1’ which burned on the ground as it had too much rich, flammable O2,” he said, referring to the first manned mission on the United States Apollo programme, which caught fire during a launch rehearsal in 1967 that killed all three crew members.
“And so we had to design the oxygen box that our spaceman would attach to his space suit,” added Mr Lim. “We tested and calibrated it with all our volunteers, and now we have successfully managed to pump in oxygen in a controlled fashion.”
He added: “We built the electronics, we built the software, we calibrated the system with the big balloon and so the oxygen part is fully taken care of.”
NO SPACESUIT REQUIRED
His team has also made sure that the capsule will have enough air pressure for the spaceman to breathe normally.
“In our last test two months ago, cabin pressure dropped only 35 millibars over five hours,” Mr Lim said.
“That’s the same as taking the elevator in KLCC and going up to the 70th floor of the twin towers. And nobody needs a suit to go up there. That is to say, the internally controlled environment in our capsule is of that high quality. Which also means that we do not actually need to use a spacesuit.”
“But being a good, safety-conscious Singaporean, we wanted to be extra safe,” he added.
“We do have a flight-tested spacesuit.”
The team has done numerous tests to ensure the astronaut lands safely.
“In total, we’ve done a total of 40 drop tests in the laboratory, where we created a payload of 500kg and put honeycomb-design 'crashables' at the capsule base to cushion the landing,” Mr Lim said.
Ultimately, the aim of the mission is to prove that what seems impossible can be achieved.
“Our attempt here is to show Singaporeans that if we put our minds, our guts, and our grit to it, we can also send our first Singaporean into space using our own modest means,” Mr Lim said.
“Besides the technicalities – which are complex – we are just six people trying to do this.”