Contest prizes are out of this world!

There was a time not too long back (one would think), when it was trendy for millionaires to buy new palaces and jaguars while billionaires bought yachts and even small islands. And those with lesser money bought lottery tickets in the hope of winning free holidays, expen2sive gadgets and perhaps even a few crores in cash. But a trip to space?

Earlier this year, US based billionaire Denis Tito, who rose to prominence when he became the first ever space tourist some years ago, announced a contest where the winning couple would go on a trip to Mars.

Illustration/Amit Bandre

In his advertisement, he asked for a man and a woman in their early to mid-50s, preferably married, with a knack for adventure and used to spending long periods of time together, for a 501 day trip to the red planet and back on a space capsule.

More recently, Axe, the creators of those awesome deodorants (and those killer TV ads to sell the products), came up with an equally spaced out idea: the Axe-Apollo campaign where 22 winners from around the world would be taken to the Axe Space Academy in the US, spend time in simulated space-like conditions, get trained by none other than one of the original Moon walkers – Edwin Buzz Aldrin – before a single winning astronaut was chosen to fly into space.

The world of lucky draws, contests and human ambition is changing fast. What in the world is happening?

Space Odyssey
Last week when Axe announced the space trip contest in India, it was met with general disbelief and cries of hoax. But a quick visit to the company’s website and a check on the world wide web confirmed that the contest was indeed on and countries such as Canada and the UK had already started the hunt for men and women to represent their respective nations in the race to space.

In a recorded video that Axe sent Sunday MiD DAY, the legendary Buzz Aldrin is heard saying: “Space travel for everyone is the next frontier in the human experience. I’m thrilled that we are giving the young people of today such an extraordinary opportunity to experience something that I’ve encountered in space.”

Curious, SMD got in touch with Kedar Teny, Category Head, Deodorants, Hindustan Unilever. Perhaps he could sense the disbelief in our voice, so he gave us very detailed answers. “Once the winners are chosen they will go to the Global Space Camp in Orlando and undergo a series of challenges, helping us decide who the ultimate winner and space traveler will be. Three people from India will be part of the final frontier training,” he explained.

The contest originally invited only male applicants, but has since opened the doors for women too. Apparently, participants from around the world have an equal chance at flying into orbit by entering the contest on “structured the contest to be social by nature, allowing people from anywhere around the world to participate. A total of 22 lucky men and women from around the globe will be sent to the space academy. From India, three will be selected for the Global Space Camp,” Teny added.

The camp will take place in December 2013 and the actual space travel will occur once the passenger space travel project from the Space Expedition Corporation (SXC) of USA is ready to fly sometime in 2014.

Clearly this is not something for the faint hearted. Only supremely fit and mentally powerful men and women can even think of taking part in a contest like this, let alone winning. Similarly when Tito announced his Mars programme, he warned potential applicants. “You will be exposed to unprecedented risks and your long-term health could be compromised. But if the effort goes ahead and succeeds as planned, you will become the first humans in history to journey into deep space and see Mars up close,” he announced on his website.

His NGO Inspiration Mars Foundation, which is leading the project, aims to launch the mission in January 2018, when Mars and Earth are at an especially close point in their 15-year cycle. The plan is to send a man and a woman in a capsule around Mars for a flyby mission similar to the one that surveyed the moon before the Apollo landings.

Over the moon
Naturally, it’s got most of us sitting up and taking notice. “It’s perhaps too early to call this a trend, but clearly space is no longer out of bounds. People have been buying and booking property on the Moon for quite some time.

Websites such as and have more applicants than they can handle I believe. So if I get a chance to fly over the moon and have a closer look at which part of it I want to buy, why should I give up the chance,” laughs Jonaki Sinha, a finance executive-turned-entrepreneur from Worli. But seriously, would she be game to apply for a trip to space? “Are you nuts? I am scared of heights,” she laughs.

But others such as Napean Sea resident Girish Shah have already signed up for the Axe-sponsored contest. “I would love to test my fitness levels against the best in business. To be an astronaut is a dream come true. I would die wondering if I didn’t give it a shot,” says the 24-year-old who runs a gym in town.

The Axe contest has already logged in several thousand applicants from 75 countries. In India too, the team expects a few thousand brave souls to sign up. “Who knows, we may have another Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma (the first Indian astronaut to travel in space) in our midst,” says Teny.
Contests and lotteries will never be the same again. Far out!  

Axe Effect: What it might take to go to space
Here’s a glimpse of a few tests shortlisted winners of the Axe Apollo campaign will have to go through at the space camp before a winner is chosen.
Take off - Fly in a high-performance aircraft with highly experienced former fighter-pilots.
Zero G – Take a parabolic flight that recreates the weightlessness of space.
Re-Entry – Go inside the centrifuge machine that simulates the same extreme G-Force astronauts are exposed to during landing..

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