Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two More Exceptional Canadian Astronauts

          by Brian Orlotti

Upcoming ATC astronauts Milan Karki and Sergio Pio.
On November 30th, I had the pleasure of coffee with two inspiring Torontonians who will journey into space aboard the XCOR Lynx spacecraft when the expected first flights begin over the next year.

The introduction was kindly arranged by Leon Graafland, a travel agent with the Toronto office of the Adventure Travel Company (ATC), a firm specializing in trips to exotic destinations like Mt Everest, the Galapagos Islands and Antarctica. ATC has been selected to be the Canadian affiliate of the Space Expedition Corporation (SXC), a Netherlands-based company created to promote suborbital space tourist flights and scientific research missions.

The first space tourist I spoke to was 48-year old Sergio Pio. Pio came to Canada over 20 years ago from his native Brazil in search of greater opportunity, starting his own catering business in Toronto. His kind, easygoing manner belie great drive and determination, qualities befitting a man who not only raised a family and built a successful business, but also found time to travel around the world. A true globetrotter, Pio’s travels have taken him to Italy, North Africa, India, Nepal, China and Australia (to name but a few). He credits his wanderlust to his first trip, with his father (who worked in a circus) to Argentina at the age of 19.

A lifetime of travel has instilled a broad-minded spirit into Pio, who told me, “I believe in experience…even if I die, I believe this experience, I take it with me.” He hopes that by heading into space, he will not only have a great experience, but inspire others to as well.

When I asked Pio about the risks involved in his upcoming flight, his words were both inspiring and pragmatic, “There’s always a risk…If I can do anything to motivate people to experience life, I will. Fears kill people. Life is short. When you have fears, you have to face that.

I next spoke to 36-year old Milan Karki. Karki came to Canada in 2001 to escape from police persecution he faced while working as a human rights activist in Nepal. Kharki established his own immigration law firm, Everest Immigration and Legal Services Inc., with offices in Toronto and Kathmandu. Through Everest, he has helped over 500 Nepalese come to Canada. He is also an IT professional with his own IT consultancy, Titan Hub Inc. Either one of these professions alone would keep most people very busy, yet Karki has still found the time to attain his private pilots’ licence and work towards an MBA from Athabaska University.

Kharki’s motivation to travel into space stems from his childhood. Coming from a poor mountain family, he dreamed of becoming an astronaut and eagerly poured through all the space-related material he could find in high school and college. Seeing no chance to follow that career path, he moved on. With the dawn of private space travel, however, Kharki sees a second chance to fulfill his boyhood dream. Beyond personal fulfillment, he also hopes to inspire people in his homeland.

After his flight on the Lynx, Kharki plans to visit Nepal and lobby for the creation of a Nepalese space agency, capitalizing on the country’s close economic and military ties to both India and China---both rising space powers. Kharki believes that Nepalese could greatly contribute to both countries’ space programs, mirroring Canadians’ long history of participation in US and European space programs. With his determination (and, soon, a set of astronaut wings), I wouldn’t bet against him.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime," according to Mark Twain.
Speaking with these two inspiring men struck a chord with me. As a child of immigrants, I heard echoes of my parents’ experiences in their stories. Immigrants must deal with many obstacles on their path to a better life, from poverty to racism to exploitation. Overcoming these struggles, they gain a broader perspective and an urge to achieve.

Brian Orlotti.
Some people like to call space tourism a waste, a pointless pastime of the rich that squanders resources while the poor suffer. These same people forget that, once, the same was said about air travel. When I spoke to these two space tourists, I didn’t see nouveau riche. I saw the perfect ambassadors for space.

Why? They gave me hope.

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and the treasurer of the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA).

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