Sumitha Narayanan Kutty | The News Minute | September 25, 2014 | 07:40 am ISTOn Wednesday, India became the third country in the world and first Asian one to place its spacecraft in Marsâ€™ orbit. What was most commendable was how the mission was accomplished on a shoestring budget of $74 million (a tenth of what NASA spent on its spacecraft). Now what if you wanted to fly into space? That just sounds incredibly expensive. But what if it took only Rs. 3,000 ($50) to give that a shot. Yes, you read right. Three thousand rupees. This month, Spaceship Earth Grants (SEG), presented by the American concern Star Harbor Space Training Academy, launched a crowd-funding space flight contest worldwide. The applicants have to demonstrate the positive impact they will have in the world upon their return. The council that chooses applicants stars the whoâ€™s who of planetary science including Bill Nye the Science Guy and former NASA astronauts.Our interest was piqued. So The News Minute chatted with Shubham Garg, the Chief Visionary Officer of Star Harbor Space Training Academy. A rocket scientist by training, Garg is an alum of the University of Southern California and India's Manipal University.TNM: What is Spaceship Earth Grants (SEG)?Shubham Garg, CVO, Star Harbor Space Training Academy: We stand for the democratization of Space. What space has to offer is so needed right now by us as an individual and as a species, that it is imperative to democratize space.In 1961, the first man went to space. Since then, in the past 53 years, less than 600 people have gone to space. That means your chance of going to space is 1 in 1,29,28,440. With the private space industries coming up, it is an exciting opportunity, however their tickets priced up to $250,000 makes it available to few people.Spaceship Earth Grants is the worldâ€™s first global crowd funded scholarship program to go to space. We want to get more people to space to have the transformational experience of seeing earth from space. We want them to come back and share their experience through their music, art, writings, voices such that the transformation rubs off on other people in way that people take on positively impacting the planet. When you sign up for the scholarship it will cost you $50 in India (Rs. 3000/-). While your current odds of going to space is 1 in 13 million, with the funds collected, SEG wants to send 1 in every 50,000 people to space. And as more people apply, we want to move the odds in your favor by sending 1 in every 25000 people to space. The remainder of the money will be converted to Spaceship Earth Organizational Grants. These grants will be given to projects and organizations that are positively impacting the planet and improving the quality of life on earth. Going to space is thrilling, but itâ€™s not just about the trill ride. Every single astronaut has come back a changed person. They all get that we are traveling through space on this tiny piece of rock, we call earth. And when these astronauts come back, they come back as great ambassadors for earth, passionately wanting to make a difference on Earth.TNM: How long has this been in the making? How challenging was it to make these grants feasible?Shubham Garg: In February of 2013, a friend introduced me to Maraia Hoffman, an astrophysicist and an advocate of private space industry (now the CEO of Star Harbor). We both shared the drive to make a positive impact on the planet. I remember the first time Maraia and I spoke, she said to me â€œPut on your seatbelt. We are going to rock the world.â€ As we started to work on this idea, amazing people started to join our team, people who shared the passion of space and the drive to make this planet a better place. Creating these grants was so much fun. We found that people fundamentally at the very core, want to make a difference on the planet, when they know there are no hidden clauses, no hidden agendas, they want to get related. Celebrities like Bill Nye (the Science Guy), CEO of The Planetary Society, Pharell Williams (of the â€˜Happyâ€™ song fame), former NASA Astronauts, and many more joined to support us and be a part of our council. We knew that anyone having the "Orbital Perspective" will come back as a strong advocate to make the planet a better place. And all that hard work over the past year and a half, has finally led to Spaceship Earth Grants and Star Harbor Space Training Academy. If I may quote SEG President and former NASA space shuttle astronaut Leland Melvin, â€œI went into space twice and it fundamentally changed my life. I want others to have the same experience. Iâ€™ve read some of the responses on the applications. I felt like crying; people have wanted to do this for so long.â€TNM: You emphasize â€œspaceflight influencing behavior.â€ In what ways? Shubham Garg: Former NASA astronaut Ron Garan, VP of SEGC, speaks of his experience of being on the space station, and looking down on earth and seeing how fragile our planet is, that we are all protected by this thin blue line, and you really get the Orbital Perspective. On his return he started Fragile Oasis, an organization to bring people and organizations together to tackle the challenges we face on the planet. Former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, President of SEGC talks about being in the ISS, breaking bread with people from countries they used to fight against, working together in space for the betterment of humanity. He is a strong advocate of S.T.E.A.M education ( science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).Edgar Mitchell, after his lunar voyage quoted: â€œFrom out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, â€˜Look at that, you s** of a b****.â€TNM: How is the SEG grant any different from other space flight/tourism contests?Shubham Garg: First and foremost - Our mission. We are a group of people who see tremendous opportunity to impact the world in a profoundly positive way through enabling more people to experience the Overview Effect and gain a new Orbital Perspective. This is why we are so committed to make the experience possible for so many. Our contest isnâ€™t just about the space flight, but more importantly what happens to our winners, their community and our planet, when the winner returns. When you support this contest, you are also supporting many impactful organizations that will receive grants and help move our planet forward. This is a long-term effort aimed at making the experience of space possible, not just once, but for as many people as possible. You could win a trip to space in another contest, but with us you can help change the world.TNM: You are yet to launch the Star Harbor Space Training Academy. What facilities will it have? Shubham Garg: The Star Harbor Space Training Academy will be the worldâ€™s first publicly accessible, fully immersive and comprehensive space flight training academy. We will be sharing more about this in October. Stay tuned - you will love it, I promise!You can check out SEGâ€™s website for details on the contest. #flymetospaceApply for the grant here.