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Limerickman, 65, signs contract to board historic space flight

Looking to the great beyond: Cyril Bennis, 65, from the Fairgreen in the city, on the newly redeveloped boardwalk at Howleys Quay, looking forward to becoming the first Irishman in space, hopefully this year. Picture: Adrian Butler

Looking to the great beyond: Cyril Bennis, 65, from the Fairgreen in the city, on the newly redeveloped boardwalk at Howleys Quay, looking forward to becoming the first Irishman in space, hopefully this year. Picture: Adrian Butler

  • by Anne Sheridan
 

A LIMERICKMAN who has spent over €120,000 in his quest to become the first Irishman to reach the final frontier has signed the contract to accept his place in history.

Cyril Bennis, 65, originally from the Fairgreen in the city, and a former Lord Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon in England, said he has now ‘signed his life away’ after signing the 12-page contract.

The contract places him in the seventh slot to reach space in a Lynx Mark I shuttle with the company XCor Aerospace in California.

While singer Bob Geldof, 62, has been frequently been touted to become the first Irishman to reach space, he is due to board a later flight on the Lynx Mark II shuttle.

However, Cyril cast off suggestions of any competition with the Boomtown Rats singer and Live Aid organiser, saying: “I think there’s enough room in space for the both of us.”

“No one knows who’s going up first, and it’s not really a case about getting there first. Whichever Irish person reaches space first it’s going to be an amazing achievement.

“It has been quite an emotional moment to receive the contract to secure my moment in space history and sign it.

“I’m now close to the culmination of a dream that I’ve worked on for the past 50 years,” he told the Limerick Leader.

Still living in Stratford-upon Avon with his American wife Roxanne, he returned to Limerick this week as he wanted to send the contracts to the States from his home town - and crucially with an Irish stamp.

Speaking about the details of the contract, he said: “I know the risks that I have to take. It’s a very high risk business. Everything is unknown, but I’m prepared to accept that and have thought long and hard about it. It’s a very new industry, even though in five to ten years time it could become the norm to go into space.”

While no date has currently been set for Cyril’s launch, he expects the journey of a lifetime to last a maximum of two hours, during which he will marvel at seeing earth from a distance of 130,000 feet or 62 miles above ground.

“I just want to enjoy every second and minute of what is going to be an amazing visual and emotional experience. It’s going to be very surreal. I still can’t quite believe it,” he said.

While he doesn’t know at present if he’ll be allowed to carry any sentimental items with on board the two-seater aircraft including the pilot, he said he has received plenty of suggestions.

He plans to pin a ‘Proud of Limerick’ badge on the lapel of his spacesuit, while his nephew has asked him to carry up a Limerick hurling jersey and an Irish flag.

As astronaut Chris Hadfield famously sang David Bowie’s Space Oddity during his mission, attracting over 20 million YouTube hits, Cyril has joked that he could sing Limerick, You’re a Lady, though it may not attract the same number of followers.

He will again undergo a rigorous medical assessment before the flight, and in the meantime said keeping his health in peak condition will be a top priority.

He will be running the Palestinian marathon in Bethlehem on April 11, and also the Shakespeare marathon in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 27, while he awaits a date for the flight.

Roxanne, his wife of 31 years, originally from Colorado, plans to be standing by until he reaches solid ground said she has no concerns about the journey that lays ahead.

“I’m not worried as he has always been adventurous and goes off doing crazy thing, and he always turns out fine,” she said.

Last year he completed his last round of intensive training in the National Aerospace Training and Research (Nastar) in Philadelphia, one of the leaders in the field of commercial human space slights.

The former hotel worker with the Hilton group said he was the oldest person to undergo training at the centre, but quickly added: “I don’t do age”.

He previously ran a 200 mile marathon non-stop from Bermingham to London, which took over 80 hours, and completed the daunting Marathon des Sables in North Africa - running 151 miles in six days across the Sahara.

“I would never have thought growing up in Limerick that one day I’d reach the high heights of space,” he said, recalling the visit of astronaut John Glenn who visited his school, CBS Sexton Street, after becoming the first American to orbit the earth in 1962.

“He always gave me that inspiration. I always thought what did it take to get out there into space, and what did we have to do? It’s going to be a dream come true.” In preparation for his mission, he has spent time at a facility in Kansas, where he has been getting used to floating in zero gravity and has trained in the high altitudes of the Rocky Mountains.

The eldest of four, his brother Tom lives in Granville Park and his sister Kitty lives in Newcastle West.

 

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