Virgin Galactic flight: Dubai expat cheers Branson as he takes off to space Filed on July 11, 2021
Supplied photo

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane successfully sent Branson and his crew to the edge of outer space.

As Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic flight took off to space on Sunday, all Dubai resident Namira Salim could pray for was safety.

“Beyond the excitement when he took off, I prayed that he comes back safely and the entire crew comes back safely,” said Namira, who was among the lucky few who witnessed the historic moment at Spaceport America, New Mexico, in the US.

“Safety was my main concern because that is what concerns everyone. So I just hoped and prayed that everything went off well — it did and they landed safely.”

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane successfully sent Branson and his crew to the edge of outer space, creating history amid immense euphoria.

This mega event, Namira said, marked the ‘pinnacle’ of astrotourism and she can hardly wait for her own space travel next year. The Pakistani expat was among several enthusiasts who paid Dh734,000 17 years ago to be part of Virgin’s commercial space flights.

Namira sent a video to Khaleej Times showing hundreds of people surrounding Branson as he makes his way towards the rocket plane. “That’s him raising his hands,” she pointed out.

The Dubai resident undertook the long journey from Dubai to New Mexico amid Covid-19 just to cheer Branson on as he made history.

At dawn on Sunday (US time), Namira remembered waking up to a beautiful morning — a good day to go to space.

“The mood was very upbeat. We left our hotels at 3.45am and we got here at 4.45am. We waited for a while as the flight was delayed by one and a half hour due to the weather. Everything was great. The spaceship was parked far away from the spectators. So, we waited for Richard Branson and his crew to step out and the spaceship to fly past us,” she shared.

“Although the weather initially delayed the flight by 1.5 hours, the spectators later witnessed sunny clear skies.”

As Namira, along with others, waits in awe to absorb the panoramic views of the Earth and the star-speckled cosmos one day, she pointed out: “This journey is about a life-time yearning for people like us. It marks the culmination of a dream that commercial space travel has become a reality in our lifetime.”

“This is the future of space for everyone,” added the woman who is no stranger to adventure. Namira was the first Asian to complete a tandem skydive from Mount Everest. She even conquered both ends of the world in her record voyages to the North and South Poles in 2007 and 2008.

After the successful flight, guests and attendees awaited a special party, a tour of the space port, and a meet-and-greet with the newsmaker who recently earned his astronaut wing — none other than Branson himself.

“Also, a very special guest today was Elon Musk who came with his baby. His baby boy is called X Æ A-12. He was here to support Richard for his space flight because he is one of the leaders in the commercial space industry. He is a genius. I think if Richard Branson is the ace of space, Elon Musk is the ace of the new space age,” said Namira, a ‘founder astronaut’, a term that referred to people who signed up to be among the first passengers of Virgin Galactic’s commercial space flight.

Nandini Sircar

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