ISLAMABAD: Once youâ€™ve been to both poles, skydived over Mount Everest and set up your countryâ€™s first consulate in Monaco, the question is: what next?
For 37-year-old explorer Namira Salim the answer is easy – become the first Pakistani to go into space. Her flight with Richard Bransonâ€™s Virgin Galactic space tourism project is planned for next year. Although no date has been fixed for the ventureâ€™s first commercial flight, she is looking forward to fulfilling a lifelong obsession.
â€œAs a child I always believed I would go to space. Itâ€™s not that I read about it one fine day and thought of signing up. Iâ€™ve always said this was in my DNA,â€ she said in an interview from Dubai.
â€œI must have been less than five years old and I was crying very hard. My father was trying to pacify me and I was like â€˜I donâ€™t want anything, I just want to go to space. I donâ€™t want any toys, nothing , just send me to spaceâ€™ .â€
But coming from a country with no major space programme of its own, where millions live in poverty, the journey to the stars was never likely to be straightforward. Pressured by her father to study, she kept up her passion for space in her spare time, joining astronomy clubs and spending nights gazing at the desert skies after her family moved to the UAE in the 1980s. â€œI always had this feeling that there was something very spiritual and divine associated with this whole thing,â€ she said of her ambition. â€œAs if something was really pulling me there and calling out to me, and I had to be there and I belonged there.â€ Chasing your dreams doesnâ€™t always come cheap – Salim paid $200,000 to sign up with Virgin Galactic in 2007, funded with support from her family, who run a heavy construction equipment firm in the UAE.
Salim said the money she has paid is an investment in a commercial industry that will one day replace government space agencies and enable researchers , satellites – and tourists – to go up at a fraction of the current cost.
And she believes space travel can eventually play a role in world peace.
â€œWe hope one day politicians could be taken up in space, and a space shuttle like this one weâ€™ve built with Virgin is perfect for that. We could actually have peace summits and have conflict resolution in space.â€