The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Space odyssey: 15 minutes to the sun
- 16-seater craft gets set on the Bypass for a virtual tour of the solar system

Here comes the sun — near Parama Island, on the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. And it could be too close for comfort for Calcuttans not so hot on sci-fi highs.

For, in another three months, the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Authority (Webreda) will instal a 16-seater spacecraft at its Energy Park, opposite Science City, to take visitors on a virtual ride to the centre of the sun. But they can embark on the star trek only if they pass the on-the-spot fitness test!

The technical expertise for the Rs 80-lakh project — touted as the first in this part of the world — is being provided by Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics. The technology had earlier been used by NASA for a virtual-reality museum. “It is an imaging system that makes virtual look real through computer simulation,” said S.P. Ganchowdhury, director of Webreda, on Wednesday. “This is done through the computer-solid geometry code, which allows the creation of 3-D images on screen,” he added.

Saha Institute has elaborate plans to bring the solar system to the Bypass. Power to fuel the project will come from the solar panels set up in the park. As a visitor enters the park with a ticket of Rs 40 and checks into the ‘executive lounge’, he will be sent for a medical check up. Those below 10 and above 80 will not even be allowed to appear for the ‘stress’ test. Those with a history of heart trouble will be screened out.

Once found fit for the journey into ‘space’, the visitor will be handed an astronaut’s uniform before being led to the spacecraft. In the craft, the seatbelts must be fastened before the countdown to ‘takeoff’ begins. The 15-minute space sojourn is preceded by a short lecture on the purpose of the journey and vital information about the destination — the sun. To soften the space traveller before the heat gets scorching, there will be a soft drink on offer.

“The idea is to educate people on the distant star that has been nourishing the earth for years,” said Ganchowdhury. “The journey will throw light on where the sun gets its immense energy from, how the energy reaches the earth and the physics of the continuous thermo-nuclear fusion going on inside it.” The “spacecraft” will pass all planets and meteors, en route to the sun. While passing each celestial, the space trekkers on board will feel the gravitational pull to ‘simulate’ the real thing. The craft will then enter different layers of the sun that have remained a mystery to many. “People will learn how ultra-violet rays come down to the earth, piercing several layers of the atmosphere. This, we hope, will spark queries about energy and its utilisation,” Ganchowdhury added. “The journey will also provide an explanation about how the sun maintains its hydrostatic and thermal equilibrium without any change in its size. The equilibrium is maintained by the continuous nuclear fusion reactions in its core.”

The ambitious project is scheduled to be inaugurated by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, power minister Mrinal Banerjee said on Wednesday. It is being set up with contributions from the area development funds of CPM parliamentarian Dipankar Mukherjee and CPM-supported Independent MP Mrinal Sen.

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