Issaquah man is semifinalist in Space Needle competition to blast off on celestial adventure

March 6, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Saurabh Saxena, of Issaquah, has made it from 50,000 entrants into a group of 20 semifinalists trying to earn a trip into space in a contest held for the 50th anniversary of the Space Needle and Seattle’s Century 21 Exposition. By Greg Farrar

The next space race is not between rival governments. Instead, the competition to blast off is among regular Joes and Janes.

Issaquah resident Saurabh Saxena, 40, is among 20 semifinalists in the Space Needle Space Race 2012 — a contest to launch a civilian on a suborbital flight.

Saxena and other semifinalists created videos for the public to watch and then vote on top candidates. The longtime amateur astronomer said the contest offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“No matter what the result is, whether I get selected or not, being enthusiastic and doing what your heart says is something I’ve learned,” he said. “Everything you do, you have to put your best in.”

Even though organizers already tallied more than 17,000 votes, fewer than 15 votes separated some semifinalists March 5. In the meantime, acquaintances and friends mobilized to support Saxena as the March 18 deadline approaches.

The next phase in the contest includes physical and mental challenges for finalists. The top candidates should be announced in mid-April.

Organizers announced the contest in August 2011. Intrigued, Saxena studied the eligibility requirements and decided to enter. The contest backers received more than 50,000 entries. Organizers randomly selected 1,000 entrants to proceed to the next stage.

“I thought, ‘Maybe there’s a little chance,’ so I applied and then got an email from them saying that I was one of the 1,000 and so I needed to create the video,” Saxena said. “Then, it kicked in. I had to have my iMac ready, my camera ready.”

On the Web

Watch Saurabh Saxena’s Space Needle Space Race 2012 entry video and vote at the Space Needle’s Facebook page.

Then, the software programmer spent about 10 days to shoot and edit a biographical video.

“I had never been in front of cameras,” Saxena said. “This was my first time.”

The process to create the 1-minute, 55-second piece posed some challenges for the novice filmmaker and aspiring astronaut.

“You can remember the lines, and when you look at the camera lens, you forget whatever you saw,” Saxena joked.

The iconic Space Needle, constructed as the United States and the Soviet Union clamored for dominance in space, stands as a monument to a future-focused era.

Though the future envisioned at the 1962 Century 21 Exposition included routine space travel, reality is laboring to play catch-up.

Executives from the Space Needle and Space Adventures, a Virginia-based space tourism outfit, partnered to offer the contest to celebrate the structure’s anniversary.

Before Saxena settled in the United States and Washington about a dozen years ago, the Space Needle ranked as a must-see attraction.

“Before my first visit to Seattle, the Space Needle was a definite destination,” he said. “I asked, ‘What are the places?’”

Then, on the flight from Los Angeles to Seattle, Saxena glimpsed the Space Needle from the plane — a greeting from a local landmark. Nowadays, he can see the Space Needle from his home in the Issaquah Highlands.

The cosmos and early efforts to explore space — broadcast in grainy TV images from earth orbit and the moon — captured Saxena’s imagination as a boy in the 1970s. The boy in India focused on the latest technical feats from the space programs in the United States and the Soviet Union.

“Yes, in my lifetime I’m going to go up there,” he said.

The fascination continues, long into adulthood. Saxena is a frequent visitor to Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. — the launch site for U.S. manned space expeditions since the Mercury Seven era.

“Every time I go to Florida — no matter where in Florida I visit — I will go to NASA,” he said.

In July 2011, Saxena headed to the Sunshine State to see the last space shuttle launch, as the orbiter Atlantis blasted to the International Space Station.

“At the point of launch, when you’re holding your camera and the shuttle is going, and you’re thinking of those astronauts sitting on top of that massive power, you will start shaking and then a few seconds later, when that sound reaches you and shakes everything around you, that is beyond description,” he said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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One Response to “Issaquah man is semifinalist in Space Needle competition to blast off on celestial adventure”

  1. Brian Millican on March 6th, 2012 8:38 pm

    Great article! Found this Space Race link to the video…

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