30 S'poreans vie to fly above Earth

SINGAPORE- Thirty applicants have been shortlisted for the chance to become the first Singaporean to pilot a vessel near space.

The number of applicants will be progressively whittled down, with up to three finalists announced by June next year and the pilot announced in January 2015, one of the project's organisers has said.

The chosen Singaporean will be launched from the island on National Day, Aug 9, 2015, according to plans unveiled in February by the Science Centre Board, the Singapore Space and Technology Association and local technology firm IN.Genius.

The exact location is yet to be finalised.

The adventurer - who must be Singapore-born and hold a pilot's licence - will fly more than 20km above sea level, about twice the height of commercial planes' cruising altitude but well short of the 100km boundary above sea level that a person has to cross to become an astronaut.

The 20km mark is the point above which, people cannot survive without pressure suits or a pressurised cabin.

The vessel to be used will be a helium stratospheric balloon.

In a challenge in October last year, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner flew 39km above Earth in such an advanced, high-altitude balloon before free-falling in a pressure suit.

IN.Genius director Lim Seng said the panel to select the Singapore pilot includes himself; former chief defence scientist Lui Pao Chuen; spacecraft designer Cecilia Hertz who worked on the crew return vehicle for the European Space Agency and the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa); and former Nasa engineer Timothy Kauffman.

Mr Lim was previously head of the Ministry of Defence's Defence Technology Office in Europe.

He was also executive adviser to the chief technical officer of the global European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.

Several finalists will be put through deep diving, advanced confidence and other courses.

The chosen pilot is expected to go to Germany or Australia for test flights, and up to two other finalists may also undergo the experience if there are sufficient funds.

Mr Lim would say only that the project's funding has so far come from private investors.

"But we welcome help from other investors and the Government once the first manned test flight takes place in the last quarter of next year," he said.

Eight unmanned test flights have taken place overseas, he added, saying that the balloon remained 27km above sea level for slightly more than an hour in the most recent flight in September.

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