Kolhapur man’s attempt for a space trip hits visa roadblock

Sometime in April,Junnaid Bagwan,based in Kurundwad in Kolhapur district,had seen the promos of a competition announced by Unilever in association with AXE Apollo Space Academy (AASA).

Written by Garima Mishra | Pune | Published:October 5, 2013 4:19 am

Sometime in April,Junnaid Bagwan,based in Kurundwad in Kolhapur district,had seen the promos of a competition announced by Unilever in association with AXE Apollo Space Academy (AASA). Under the competition,the three lucky winners would represent India at AASA’s Global Space Camp,Orlando (US),and compete for the prestigious prize — a trip to space.

After registering his name for the competition by calling on the number given on the competition website,Bagwan didn’t pay too much attention to the event thinking that he can’t be the lucky one. However,to his surprise,in August,he got a call from the representative of competition verifying his name,address,email ID and other such details.

On September 19,he received a confirmation letter from the management,which stated that Bagwan is officially selected to attend AXE Apollo Space Academy in Orlando,Florida,to be held from December 1 to 6.

The letter stated that Bagwan will be staying at Space Camp,at Astronaut Hall of Fame,Florida,and represent India to compete for the prize. Since all the expenses to Orlando and his stay were borne by Unilever,Bagwan did not take time to apply for the visa.

Unfortunately,his visa application got rejected under Section 214 (B),which signifies that Bagwan was not able to prove that he will not stay for more than a week in Florida.

Disheartened with the unexpected development,31-year-old Bagwan said,“I stay in Kurundwad with my parents and younger siblings Javed and Jasmeen. My house is here,my business is here,why wouldn’t I come back to India.” He said the trip could have been his once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The unique competition of Unilever was launched in January by astronaut Buzz Aldarin and was open for 60 countries. Of the total participants,the final 22,one each from participating countries,will travel to the space.

Though disappointed,Bagwan got in touch with the help desk of The Apollo Space Academy and told them about his visa rejection. “I am told that they will help me with the person I can get in touch to reapply for the visa. I hope my application gets accepted this time,” he said.

Bagwan belongs to a middle-class family. He studied in a Marathi-medium local school and college in Kurundwad. His father,now retired,was working as a senior pharmacy officer at the state health department. Currently Bagwan runs his own firm,Angel Consultancy.

Bagwan said as per the information put up on the website,the selected candidates like him will travel to Orlando,Florida,to take part in the final selection process. “Here contestants will take part in three training missions,which will test if they have what it takes to go to space. A panel of space experts will then select those contestants worthy of a trip to space. The winners of the space competition will be flying 103 km up to space with space tourism company,Space Expedition Corporation (SXC),which will give them the status of an astronaut,” he says,adding that he is keeping his fingers crossed for his visa reapplication.

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