By Natasha Pavlopoulou
ATHENS, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) -- A team of Greek students and graduates are set to conquer the stratosphere this December with the "first Cretan astronaut", a symbol of efforts aimed to promote innovation and youth entrepreneurship in the country.
"Manousos" wears a space suit, grows a handlebar moustache and comes from Crete, the largest island of Greece. He is not a real human being, but a figure, the brainchild of a team of aerospace enthusiasts called "Cretan astronaut".
His test flight on Oct. 17 this year was crowned with success and the first official mission is scheduled for early December, depending on the weather conditions, his creators said.
"Manousos" will reach the stratosphere on a reusable "ship" built from scratch and will return to Earth with the help of a high altitude balloon.
The project is an idea of a group of seven students and graduates who aim to put Crete on the world map of technology and innovation, they told Xinhua.
They are trying to achieve their goal through Youth Entrepreneurship Club, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization based in Chania, Crete, created by young people interested in entrepreneurship.
The organization, founded in 2012, counts more than 100 volunteers and through its 30 actions has direct impact on 3,000 people. Its mission, according to the founders, is to highlight new opportunities for young people in Greece and to reverse pessimism and brain drain which had increased during the eight-year debt crisis.
"Manousos" was born when one of the team members proposed a year ago a flight to the edge of the Earth's atmosphere.
"At first it was a crazy idea that no one believed in, but afterwards with hard work it started to develop and somehow the first Cretan astronaut was born," said Olympia Kokka, executive director of Youth Entrepreneurship Club and one of the members of the project.
The test flight was recorded by a 360-degree camera and the two innovations used were the full reusability of the ship and the addition of two degrees of flight control, facilitating its recovery, Vasilis Kottas, the Marketing & Communications manager, explained.
"The journey which started from Chania lasted about 117 minutes, with an altitude of 23.5 kilometers and the temperatures Manousos had to deal with was about -40 degrees Celsius," he said.
People on Crete island embraced their "astronaut" from the very first moment and supported his journey through crowd funding. A financing campaign started on May 30 and closed on Sept. 15 raised 915 euros (1,037 U.S. dollars). "Manousos" was also blessed by people through a poll organized on social media platforms.
December's flight will not be the end of the mission for "Manousos".
"We also want to raise awareness through various actions such as speeches in schools and other institutions so as to show and inspire a different Greece, a country that can create opportunities and is extrovert. Finally we would like to transform this venture into a business model. This of course needs a lot of research and funding," noted Thanos Paraschos, project manager of "Cretan Astronaut".
The ultimate goal of all, according to the team members, is to create a workshop in collaboration with the Youth Entrepreneurship Club, where new scientists will be able to experiment and innovate in today's Greece.