Dubai-based Pakistani astronaut to fly to space today

Namira Salim will make history as she becomes the first female UAE resident and Pakistan's first female space tourist

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Angel Tesorero

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Photo: @namirasalim/X
Photo: @namirasalim/X

Published: Fri 6 Oct 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Fri 6 Oct 2023, 11:45 AM

The day has finally come for Namira Salim to achieve her life-long dream of going to space. At 6pm (UAE time) today (October 6), she and two other space tourists will go sub-orbital on a Virgin Galactic flight, boosting the popularisation of space tourism.

Salim – who has been waiting for almost two decades for the commercial spaceflight – is making history as she becomes the first female UAE resident and Pakistan's first female space tourist.

No less than Anwaar ul Haq Kakar, caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan, wished her safe voyage and success. He tweeted on Wednesday: Good Luck Namira Salim @namirasalim. I wish you success when you’re ready to make history on 06 October by becoming the 1st Pakitani woman to travel to space in the #Galactic04. By proving their mettle as trailblazers in multiple fields, Pakistani women are making the whole nation proud.

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Salim replied that she is “proud to fly the #national flag high in #space”. She is also representing the national flags of the UAE and Monaco (as she is a long-time resident of these two countries) in today’s space flights.

Astronaut 019

Salim, who will be known as Virgin Galactic Astronaut 019, will be joined by Ron Rosano (Virgin Galactic Astronaut 017), who is another space tourist and astronomy educator from Muir Beach, California; and British national Trevor Beattie (Virgin Galactic Astronaut 018), an advertising executive and founding partner, chairman and creative director of Beattie McGuinness.

Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

The trio will be led by mission commander Kelly Latimer and pilot C.J. Sturckow. will be at the helm of VSS Unity. Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses will join the three private passengers in the cabin.

Three crew and space tourists are scheduled to launch on a suborbital trajectory aboard Virgin Galactic's reusable space plane, VSS Unity. Takeoff of Unity's carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, is at 6pm (UAE time) from Virgin Galactic's Spaceport America in New Mexico.

On their way up, the passengers will experience up to four times the force of the Earth's gravity, known as 4G. Then, they will enter almost zero gravity and experience four minutes of weightlessness aboard the spaceplane VSS Unity.

‘For my father’

Last week, Khaleej Times caught up with Salim at her Dubai residence before travelling to US. She was relaxed and composed when she narrated the preparations and adventures she has done before the flight. But she turned emotional when she shared the inspiration for her dream of reaching space.

She said it was her late father, a former Pakistani Army official, who inspired her, and it is only fitting that her upcoming flight would be dedicated to him. "My father was the one who first showed me the Pole Star. He taught me the constellations of the night sky for navigational purposes and he inspired me – at a very young age – to reach for the stars," Namira told Khaleej Times, while holding a brooch she personally designed in the form of Ursa Minor or Little Dipper.

"I grew up as a little girl in Pakistan looking up at the night sky. And when we moved to the UAE in the 1980s, I also spent my youth looking up the stars," she added.

Adventurous wanderer

Salim’s space dream goes back to 2006, when she became the first UAE resident to purchase a suborbital flight ticket from Sir Richard Branson's space venture. She paid $200,000, which was less than half the reported current price of $450,000 for a seat on a Virgin Galactic flight.

Between then and now, she kept her adventurous self busy by conquering the North and South Poles. She also became the first Asian and first Pakistani to skydive over Mount Everest.

For her achievements, Namira was recognised as the first Pakistani astronaut by the government of Pakistan in 2006, and she served as honourary ambassador of tourism for Pakistan the following year. She also became a peace activist and was conferred with 'Tamgha-e-Imtiaz' (Medal of Excellence) in 2011 by the President of Pakistan.

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