Wednesday, November 7, 2012

'First' Pakistan astronaut wants to make peace in space

After becoming the first Pakistani to go to both North and South Pole, and becoming the first South Asian to skydive over Mount Everest, 37-year-old Namira Salim is all set to become the first Pakistani to go into space, and hopes to make peace there.

"I love my title 'first Pakistani astronaut', it's like being a very special princess of the country. Maybe nicer than being a princess," The Dawn quoted Salim, as saying.

Salim's venture, however, comes with a heavy price tag. Salim, in her bid to fulfill her childhood dream, has invested a whopping 200,000 dollars to sign up with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space tourism project, which is scheduled to take off next year.

Salim, who is currently based in Monaco, funded her trip 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.

She also believes space travel can eventually play a role in world peace.

"We hope one day politicians could be taken up in space, and a space shuttle like this one we've built with Virgin is perfect for that. We could actually have peace summits and have conflict resolution in space," she said.

Currently Pakistan's honorary consul in Monaco, Salim has taken her symbolic "Peace Flag" on all her trips and now plans to carry it into space.

In doing so she hopes to help tell a more positive story about her troubled homeland, which is wracked by Islamist and separatist insurgencies, poverty, disease, power shortages and economic stagnation.

More than 500 people booked their seat on the 60-mile, two-hour ride into space. The Federal Aviation Administration has given Virgin permission to start testing its SpaceShipTwo craft in space, but it is still unclear exactly when the first flights with tourists on board will take off.

But when they do, Salim will be there to make history for her country.

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