UAE: Pakistani expat flies to US to see Richard Branson jet off to space Filed on July 10, 2021 | Last updated on July 10, 2021 at 11.44 pm
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Namira is thrilled that she will be right at the Spaceport America to witness the milestone event.

Pakistani expat Namira Salim has flown to New Mexico to see billionaire Richard Branson jet off to space tomorrow, aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity SpaceShip Two.

If the weather permits, Branson’s flight will take off in the early hours (5pm, UAE time), with five other crew members on board.

Namira is thrilled that she will be right at the Spaceport America to witness the milestone event, a culmination of a dream that commercial space travel will become a reality in her lifetime.

“It’s very exciting. When Richard Branson came here on the inaugural flight of Virgin Atlantic in March 2006, I was the only and the first customer of Virgin Galactic in the UAE. I became the face of the campaign here,” she said.

Namira was among several enthusiasts who have paid Dh734,000 to be part of Virgin’s commercial space flights, making her a ‘founder astronaut’, a term used for people who signed up to be among the first passengers.

“I was represented as the face of early consumer confidence. I had invested in space tourism back in 2006 because I knew it would become a commercially viable industry,” the Dubai resident said.

“Having been part of every milestone event with Virgin Galactic…from the building of the spaceship, the mothership and their subsequent roll-out to the test flights and all these other events, this is like the pinnacle of it all. This is the most important milestone event. That’s because Branson is finally delivering what he had promised…that Virgin Galactic will become the first private space line of the world and that he will be the first commercial customer,” Namira said.

As a child growing up in Pakistan, Namira always dreamt of sailing across the high heavens. She is also the first female member of the first Astronomy Society of Pakistan, Amastropak.

Additionally, she was the first Asian to complete a tandem skydive from Mount Everest. The UAE-based adventurer even conquered both ends of the world in her record voyages to the North and South Poles in 2007 and 2008.

“Now that Richard Branson is going to space, this will skyrocket the commercial programme and I can only hope my flight will be this year or early next year at the most. They’ll be a draw and we’ve also given our preferences as to what order we wish to travel in and whom we want to fly with because over the past 15-16 years, we’ve made friends being a part of this programme. We’ve had a space-suit-fitting ceremony in November 2019 in the US. Finally, it depends on the clearance from the operations team to know when it’s viable for us to fly,” Namira said.

Although the date hasn’t been set yet for her out-of-this-world adventure, the expat has been ensuring her physical fitness levels are up to the mark. She has been given a diet and fitness plan and has earlier undergone training with the VSS Unity crew, so that she knows what to expect when she flies.

“I have been very active physically by going to the gym particularly for the last five to six years. It’s not a Nasa rocket that is taking us up. It’s not a vertical launch. This is going to be a mothership that will fly up to 50,000 feet and then the spacecraft detaches itself and makes its way to space,” Namira said.

Earning his commercial astronaut wing, Branson — who will become Astronaut Number 001 — will be floating in zero gravity, briefly experiencing weightlessness in the entire flight that is said to take two to three hours.

“Such suborbital flights are easier on the body because it’s a horizontal launch and it comes back into the atmosphere like a shuttlecock. It glides back gently into the atmosphere. So our physical fitness cannot be compared to a regular space agency’s astronaut. We are required to maintain a general level of fitness. It’s a lot easier which is why it’s commercially viable and can become a consumer industry,” Namira explained.

She hopes that one day, the UAE will venture into commercial space flights, too.

“The UAE has done very well in the realm of space. Having a young space agency, it has swiftly collaborated with international space agencies in the final frontier. The fact that the country sent its first astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori to space is an incredible feat and now I am very happy that there will be a female astronaut Nora Al Matrooshi going up from here. I am excited that I’ll be the first female space tourist from the UAE.”

Nandini Sircar

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