Isle Of Man / Ellan Vannin

Isle of Man search for modern-day Christopher Columbus

Excalibur Almaz
Image caption The epic space journey promised by Excalibur Almaz would take people further into space than ever before in these Russian-made capsules

The Isle of Man's space industry has brought millions to the Manx economy and helped generate a wealth of international interest, but could the best be yet to come?

The sector is thought to be on the cusp of making history by becoming the first nation to push the boundaries of space travel by about 60,000 miles.

Its success depends on attracting the right individual from an international pool of only 29 potentials.

This, according to industry research, is the number of people wealthy enough to travel into space within the next 10 years.

To fit the bill this person needs an appetite for adventure and an enormous bank account- the price tag for the dream trip is £100m.

The space company selling the dream is Excalibur Almaz and the chairman, Art Dula, said the firm was hoping to attract all 29 individuals eventually.

Image caption The Isle of Man's space industry has brought millions to the Manx economy

"What they will be buying is a private expedition and they will have to tell us how long they would like to stay there and exactly where they would like to go," he said.

"It will either be a sovereign government who want their astronauts to go to the moon or it will be a private individual or individuals, who want to fly there in the spirit of exploration and discovery."

'Intrepid hero'

Whoever they are, the space pioneers can expect to travel in one of the company's space capsules - renovated Russian crafts.

"One capsule has already flown in space two times, it went up and it stayed in space for a month," said Mr Dula.

"It came back down and was re-launched again, so it's actually a little space shuttle of about 4.5 cubic meters. You make it small because it is actually very expensive to lift mass off the earth. It costs about £11,000 per kilogramme.

"We are offering people the chance to travel 60,000 miles beyond the moon."

Only 28 people have ever been to the moon and this distance is further than any human being has ever travelled.

If all goes well, it could be a Manx company leading the way, although the competition from India, China, Russia and the United State, the current leaders in the space race, is fierce.

The Isle of Man government's director of space commerce, Tim Craine, said the global space industry is currently worth about $300bn a year and, as the host to 30 of the 54 international companies, the Isle of Man's share will be significant.

Image caption The island was photographed from space by astronaut Nicole Stott, whose husband is Manx, from the space shuttle Discovery

"If you look at the projected turnover of all the companies based on the island over the next three years, it has been conservatively estimated to be in excess of £1.7bn," he said.

"Over the last eight years it has brought in over £36m in direct exchequer benefits.

"It has been quite a surreal journey at times, on one business visit to the States I found myself having breakfast with Buzz Aldrin.

"We have many, many aspects to our industry and I think now we have reached that critical mass where things will only continue to grow."

And it is that predicted growth which has led to the European Space University basing part of a masters course in the island.

The graduates hope to one day take part in future space missions and they will have the Isle of Man to thank for their training, but in order for the space business to take off in the Isle of Man, the first astronaut must be found.

"There have always been people who have wanted to do something for humanity, and the exploration of space is an activity humanity is going to do. The people who do it will be remembered forever," said Mr Dula.

"They will be remembered in the same was as some of the intrepid heroes of the past, like Christopher Columbus."

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