x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

UAE explorer hopes to conquer space

Namira Salim, a UAE explorer, hopes to head into space now that she has conquered the north and south poles.

ABU DHABI // If things go the way she'd like, next year Namira Salim will be one of a select group on board an exclusive craft heading into space.

The 35-year-old Pakistani is a member of the Virgin Galactic Club, which aims to offer suborbital space flights.

Ms Salim, who moved with her parents to the UAE 30 years ago, was one of the first to be accepted into a club that now has hundreds of members - the first 100 of whom were each required to pay a $200,000 (Dh734,600) fee.

She has already journeyed to the North and South poles and skydived from the top of Mount Everest. With space as her next frontier she is hoping to be one of the first tourists from a GCC country to make the trip.

In 2009 Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Group - the parent company of Virgin Galactic - unveiled the spaceship. Speaking before the launch of a three-day exhibition at the Westin Hotel that chronicles her adventures so far and gives a preview of her plans for the space flight, Ms Salim said the project had moved into the testing phase.

"Once those test flights are cleared, we will hopefully get the licence to begin taking people into space commercially," she said. "However, nobody can predict the timeline, because we are doing this for the first time."

Her exhibition, Beyond the Poles, features photographs and 13 minutes of documentary footage shot during Ms Salim's various journeys to the Artic in 2007, Antarctica the following year and her Himalayan expedition. The exhibit includes photos of Ms Salim hoisting the UAE and Pakistani national flags at both the North and South Poles, and photos of her trekking in the Himalayas and skydiving.

Although it has been several years since she made these trips, recent recognition in the form of a Medal of Excellence from the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, inspired her to provide others with a glimpse into the far-off places she has seen.

"Getting the award, in March, encouraged me to engage the younger generation and to share my experiences," she said.

Next, Ms Salim hopes to tackle Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest peak in Africa, and achieve a long-held goal: obtaining the pilot's licence she has been working towards since her student days. And then, hopefully, a space flight.

Being part of something so groundbreaking would help to push future generations to greater achievements, she said.

"This is not just about joy rides or fun rides," she said. "It's not about being somebody that has the money to do it, no. We're doing it because it'll help the world, and it will create an opportunity over the years to reduce the price of space flight itself.

"The whole point is that eventually the price will come down. This is a contribution to the development of the future."

Until she gets there, Ms Salim enjoys seeing the impact of her passion for exploration on others.

"No matter who I meet, and no matter what age group, people - women especially - get so inspired," she said. "It comes as a surprise to me. I never expected to get such a response from people, so it is a big deal."

She emphasises that while her journeys are self-funded, those with more limited means shouldn't be discouraged from striving to achieve their own dreams and goals.

"Basically, when you meet inspirational people, you draw from their personal experiences and apply them to your own life," she said.

After an invitation-only launch tomorrow, Between the Poles will be open to the public on Friday and Saturday from 10am-10pm. Entry is free.