One man's dream of the cosmos
The New Paper
HIS plan is a gobsmacking one: to send a Singaporean into the far reaches of the stratosphere by the end of next year.
Making our jaws drop further, he says the plan is actually progressing ahead of time. The first manned flight should happen in the fourth quarter of next year.
Mr Lim Seng is nothing if not unorthodox.
Dressed in a printed burgundy shirt, trousers and two-toned oxford shoes for our interview and photoshoot, Mr Lim, 54, does not bat an eyelid at my or the editor's scepticism.
We are catching up with him after his plan, which made headlines in all the major media, was first announced in February.
The idea is to send a man beyond Armstrong's Line, or more than 20km up into the stratosphere.
Armstrong's Line is an altitude beyond which humans absolutely cannot survive in an unpressurised environment. Of course, it is not quite a spacewalk like the one in the film Gravity. After all, outer space is usually defined by the Karman Line, 100km above sea level.
Instead, the first Singaporean in near-space will head up there in a balloon-like structure.
We asked Mr Lim why bother to as, technically, any fighter pilot or Singaporean who has flown the defunct Concorde has done so at this altitude?
That this was an important step to establish the viability of the spacecraft he is engineering, which will be part of his space-tourism plans.
The best way to describe Mr Lim is to think of him as Singapore's version of English business magnate Richard Branson.
Like Sir Richard, he's taken on the dreams of space for the eventual payoff of space tourism in late 2016 or 2017.
Sir Richard's Virgin Galactic, which has been selling US$250,000 (S$313,000) tickets on its space plane, hopes to have its first launch early next year.
Virgin Galactic promises to reach the Karman Line. Tourists will experience weightlessness at some point during the flight.
Mr Lim states confidently that he and his company, IN.Genius, will be as successful as the British tycoon, if not more.
"We will be able to offer people more than three hours in space and it will most likely be cheaper as well," he claims.
He will design the craft such that normal folk, including children and the elderly, will be able to experience it.
To raised eyebrows, he refuses to divulge more about the craft that will send the first Singaporean into space.
But he does show us pictures of test launches at a "central European" launch site. Photos show a group of people crowding at the vast test site around a silver-coloured craft as they prepare for lift-off. Other photos show the design of a spacesuit, and a group of experts pointing to a map, trying to predict where the craft would land.
He is cagey about specifics of the craft, the launch site and even the investors involved, citing commercial-secrecy concerns. But he does reveal gleefully that there have been eight test flights and the most recent one resulted in the craft going up 27km and staying there for 70 minutes.
The more crucial reason for sending a Singaporean into near-space?
"We place so much emphasis on doing well on paper, such as achievements in competitions like the International Mathematical Olympiad.
"I wanted to show young Singaporeans that anything is possible if we just apply our knowledge in real-life situations," Mr Lim says.
When quizzed about how he is going to accomplish all of this in such a short time, he does not appear too fussed. "Can one, lah," he declares with a grin.
So far, it has been a one-man mission. The entrepreneur, who lives in a house in Siglap, says he has pumped "millions" of his own dollars into the project, which has already cost about "tens of millions of dollars".
What is clear is that he is parlaying his more than 20 years of experience in the aeronautical and defence industries, as well as the contacts he has made, into the venture.