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Phirada poised to become first Thai to go into outer space

SOVIET COSMONAUT Yuri Gagarin was the first man to journey into outer space, and now 30-year-old space engineer Phirada Techavichit has the opportunity to become Thailand's first woman to see the planet from high above.

She was selected as one of 23 persons from 62 countries to travel with the Lynx Mark II spacecraft under the AXE Apollo project in December.

It will take the pilot and his sole passenger about an hour to reach 103 kilometres above sea level.

"I will touch non-gravity conditions as the pilot will turn off the machine and give the passenger six minutes to take photographs of the treasured moments," she said.

On the way back, the spacecraft will speed at four times the gravitational force of the earth before landing. The trip will last 60 minutes.

Before being recruited for the space trip, Phirada was invited to undergo space training at the National Space Camp at Orlando, Florida in the US, together with two Thai candidates.

That was a great opportunity |for her to learn to be an astronaut with three committee members that included Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon after Neil Armstrong, a spacecraft technician and a representative from Space Expedition Corporation.

The judging criteria were courage, alertness and teamwork.

"I have been prepared to be strong both in body and mind. We need physical training, a health check-up and a psychiatric test," she said.

It took seven days of heavy training to learn and adjust to the conditions of less oxygen and to control concentration.

On the last day, during their flights, the trainer advised them on the impact of gravity on blood circulation.

"We have to try to circulate blood from head to feet by contracting our body," she said.

It was not luck but her ability that got her the chance to travel to outer space.

Phirada studied space at King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang.

She later won a scholarship from the Theos Operational Training Programme to study satellite for a master’ degree at ISAE in France.

Phirada works at the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency, where she is responsible for communications with the Theos satellite, which surveys natural resources for decision-making by the Thai government.

"I might take Thai food or any medical equipment for research with me. I'll go to Mars next time," she said jokingly.


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