To infinity and beyond might seem like a whimsical dream for the average man but one Singaporean is determined to boldly reach for the stars, to a certain extent.
Introducing Mr Lim Seng, founder and managing director of Singapore-based technology firm IN.Genius, who has a grand vision of sending the first Singaporean to near space, or at least past the Armstrong Line, which is 20km above sea-level.
In an interview with Business Insider, Mr Lim shared that his wildly ambitious self-funded startup GoSpace is a gift of love for the country that supported him through his education.
“My objective is to give back to the nation that gave me scholarships to study overseas,” he said.
Mr Lim was awarded government scholarships in the past to study in France and the US.
In 1987, he returned to Singapore and was posted to the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) to develop Singapore’s first Air Force Operations Command Centre among other landmark achievements.
After his stint at Mindef, Mr Lim worked at the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company’s Corporate HQ – known as Airbus Group today – where he took on various high-ranking positions.
These days, the 57-year-old conducts near-space experimentation for scientific applications at IN.Genius where he’s focused on the GoSpace project.
He is no stranger to space technology ventures having been involved in several European space projects and developing hyper-sonic air transportation systems.
This time, his project involves sending a single astronaut for a 45-minute ride in a Quantum01 capsule which will rise towards the stratosphere via a high-altitude helium balloon.
When it reaches the Armstrong Line, a cord will be cut, which will cause the capsule to descend back to Earth with the help of a parachute at a rate of 5m per second.
Mr Lim says the project, which began in 2013, is funded by his family and that no external funding sources were tapped on.
He said: “Given our once poor background, it is important to appreciate what we have and what we’ve achieved.”
IN.Genius collaborated with India’s Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and various subcontractors to leverage on its technological prowess and further refine the design of the craft.
“We are standing on the shoulders of giants,” said Mr Lim.
An arduous project of such a massive scale would naturally entail a few challenges of its own.
The most prominent, according to Mr Lim, was finding suitable airspace overseas to conduct experiments.
“But the Indian and Australian governments have been very helpful,” Mr Lim noted.
In addition, the GoSpace team had to fight a relentless battle with the forces of science and nature.
“To send life to space is very challenging because of depressurisation and collision with micro debris.”
He recounted one test where his team sent three lab rats into space, only for them to return dead as a result of depressurisation.
After further tweaks and some 46 days later, a second trial produced positive results, encouraging the next step, to send a human instead.
Mr Lim had originally planned to conduct the flight in 2015 in Singapore to tie in with the Republic’s 50th anniversary celebrations but the plan was delayed due to a technical issue.
But not just any person has the privilege of ascending to the heavens, and Mr Lim certainly doesn’t see himself as the right candidate.
Out of 150 Singaporean candidates who registered to take part in the flight, only one will eventually be chosen for the big day.
Candidates need to have a good fitness level, possess a pilot and paragliding license, and the right attitude and willingness to risk his or her life for the cause.
As of now, only six candidates are left in the programme, shared Mr Lim.
The chosen Singaporean will be sent to Alice Springs in Australia – chosen for its vast open desert landscape and optimal testing ground conditions – to be launched into space on May 15 at 4.30am (Singapore time).
Interestingly, NASA has a facility just 100km away from GoSpace’s launch site.
For the project, Mr Lim would always feel close to home despite being frequently overseas to conduct his experiments, with his whole family playing a part in supporting his endeavour.
One of his grown-up daughters helps him with corporate communications while the other supported him by volunteering to be a candidate for the programme.
“And my wife writes all the cheques,” he quipped.
Whether the project proves to be successful or not, Mr Lim desires to pass the baton to the next generation.
On April 6, he is conducting an inter-university space business model competition at the National Library for business students to share ideas on space projects.
He is also working on a storybook detailing his journey to send the first Singaporean to space.
Mr Lim said: “We want to show that even we, from a small country, are capable of going to space.”
Correction: The previous version of this article stated the launch time as May 15, 7.30am (Singapore time). GoSpace has clarified that the actual launch time is May 15, 4.30am (Singapore time).