The first Pakistani woman in space and the first South Asian space tourist, Namira Salim, is also the recipient of the Femina Middle East Women Awards 2016 for being Unstoppable in the field of Space Exploration. With her achievements that include conquering the Poles, she shares her story with Yasmeen Maqbool
In her quest to experience the unknown Namira Salim has at innumerable times put herself to test and the journey has had milestones.. And while, attempting to quench her zest for it, She is the first Pakistani to conquer the North Pole (2007) and South Pole (2008) and the first Asian to skydive (tandem) over Mount Everest, during the historic First Everest Skydives in 2008 – raising a universal peace flag on behalf of humanity.
She says, “Being the ‘first’ added to my motivation but, more importantly, these adventures have become a source of inspiration for women from my region to excel in all walks of life and I take immense pride in that.” Namira states that she will also be the first Pakistani woman in space, “I was born believing that I was destined to go to space. I’m a very determined person, who strongly believes in her convictions.”
Being a natural risk-taker, Namira’s first challenge was to combat the cultural pressure of the conservative Eastern society she grew up in. Competing in a male dominated field where the gender gap is huge, Namira says, “While contending in a man’s world, I never compromised on what I stood for. At times, it was necessary to surrender, but not give up.” She points that becoming a wife and a mother is usually regarded as a fulfillment of a woman’s destiny, and not following this conventional path, Namira has had to fight her share of battles.
She believes our mission in life is pre-determined, While I am a woman of conservative values and do not chose to go against them, one must submit to one’s fate to embrace one’s destiny. In essence, it is not about what people think, but about what Allah wills.” Namira thinks that her lifestyle and commitment to work will perhaps not allow her to do justice to a conventional married life. Nonetheless, if destiny makes way for marriage and children, she is happy to take the plunge. “It is all about having faith, courage and determination, no matter how hard it gets. This is what helped me chisel my destiny, en route inspiring other women of my community.”
Thus, with much-needed support from her parents, Namira successfully pursued her Masters of International Affairs from Columbia University in New York, USA, 1996.
“Despite the endeavours of astronauts, cosmonauts and other intrepid voyagers, space travel is still a rarity. But we are getting closer to democratising it.” It has been a decade since Namira co-founded Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the first commercial space-line of the world. This launch, which showed early consumer confidence in the project, was aimed at raising an investor for Virgin Galactic and landed Virgin its biggest stakeholder in Aabar Investments PJS worth $380 million.
Last November, Namira launched Space Trust, a non-profit initiative, marking its inaugural event in the Principality of Monaco in the presence of His Serene Highness Prince Albert II, the Sovereign Prince of Monaco. Space Trust envisions to make space for peace and trust on Earth via novel space themed initiatives to inspire change, encourage dialogue and enrich education. The trust’s mission accordingly involves research, public events, exhibitions and campaigns to raise awareness over public policy questions concerning space exploration and the impact of private sector space initiatives.
When asked what advise she would give to the young space explorers and enthusiasts, she says, “It is all about believing in and following your dream. I strongly advocate and advise young girls to never sacrifice their values and always be proud of their heritage. We come from a rich culture and I have taken the best from it, refining my own value system with the best of the East and West, to make the world my oyster! Ultimately, I believe that there are other worlds beyond the stars and that we should keep exploring further into the heavens.
THE LIST OF FIRSTS:
• First Pakistani, UAE and Monaco Founder Astronaut of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the first private space-line of the world.
• First (future) South Asian Space Tourist, First (future) Female Astronaut from Dubai, First (future) Astronaut from Monaco.
• First Pakistani and first woman from Dubai and Monaco to reach the North Pole in April 2007.
• First Pakistani and first woman from Dubai and first person from Monaco to reach the South Pole in January 2008.
• First Asian, first woman from Dubai and first person from Monaco to Skydive (tandem) over Mount Everest, during the Historic First Everest Skydives in October 2008.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS OF THE TRAINING:
“It was a paradox! At first, I felt completely weighed down by the G Forces as if I was being crushed down by an elephant and then, before I knew it, I was floating in space, as light as a feather.”
NAMIRA’S MOST ENTHRALLING EXPERIENCE
“I am deep down an artist and poet. Being a risk taker with immense faith in my inner voice makes me an explorer. My most enthralling experience was my ten-day trek in Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park in the Himalayas, along the beautiful Dudh Koshy or Milky White Valley, followed by my Everest Skydive, which didn’t come without serious risks. It was preceded by a fellow compatriot’s fatal jump and the plane crash of an airline which flew me from Kathmandu to Lukla, the gateway to the Himalayas, killing all 17 Swiss mountaineers. Again, it was my inner voice that didn’t fail me when I took the plunge from 29,500 feet over the peak of Mount Everest, often referred to as the third pole, on 11th October 2008.”