'I've waited 17 years': Dubai adventurer set for Virgin Galactic flight on October 5

Namira Salim will become the first Pakistani citizen to fly to the boundary of space

Namira Salim, who was among the first people to buy a ticket to space with Virgin Galactic, with Sir Richard Branson. Photo: Supplied
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A Dubai adventurer who bought a seat on a Virgin Galactic flight 17 years ago has spoken of her excitement as she prepares to take off to the edge of space on October 5.

Namira Salim bought her ticket in 2006, earning her the title of Founder Astronaut.

She paid $200,000, less than half the $450,000 which is reportedly what a seat on the flight costs today.

The launch window for the Galactic 04 space tourism flight, which has been organised for those who bought their seat in the early days of the company, opens in less than two weeks.

"The excitement is building. There's a lot going on. I'm planning to arrive at the Spaceport America in New Mexico on September 30," Ms Salim told The National.

"There's a lot to prepare before I fly off ... we've been having calls with our fellow astronauts and crew.

"These are the moments when we feel excited and motivated because we learn more about spaceflight and you're going on a trip that is literally out of this world – and I've waited 17 years."

What the experience involves

Passengers can expect about a 70 to 90-minute flight on Virgin Galactic.

A mother ship carries the VSS Unity spaceplane to an altitude high enough for it to be released and head to the boundary of space.

Passengers will experience about four minutes of weightlessness before the plane returns to Earth for a landing on a runway in the desert.

Ms Salim is expected to become the first woman space tourist from the UAE, if all goes as planned.

This will be Virgin Galactic's fifth flight in five months.

How she is training for the flight

To train for the flight, Ms Salim said she has been regularly going to the gym.

She received specialised pre-flight training years ago and will be taking part in another session closer to launch.

"We will have the preparations and three days of training before the flight at Spaceport America," she said.

"It's going to be pretty exciting because there's some really interesting components and I'm really looking forward to them.

"And other than that, it's bonding with the fellow astronauts and our crew members, and basically preparing for an experience of a lifetime and cherishing it."

Space tourists often prepare for flights by training inside a zero-gravity simulator.

Ms Salim will be flying with two other passengers - one American and British. The company did not identify them.

There will also be three crew members in the VSS Unity spaceplane and two in the mothership.

Lifelong dream being realised

Ms Namira said she has been fascinated by what lies beyond the skies from a young age.

"I was very little when I told my parents that I would go to space and I didn't want to play with toys," she said.

"My father was the one who first pointed [out] the Pole Star to me because he was in the Pakistani army and he knew the constellations of the night sky for navigational purposes.

Virgin Galactic launches tourists to edge of space

Virgin Galactic launches tourists to edge of space

"And the moment he pointed it out, I fell in love with the stars."

While Ms Salim had hoped her parents would see her lift off into space one day, her mother died in 2017 and her father in 2019.

Ms Salim has an adventurous spirit, having gone scuba diving in the Bahamas, trained as a pilot, travelled to the North and South poles and carried out a tandem skydive from an altitude of almost nine kilometres, in the world’s highest drop zone near Mount Everest.

The Virgin Galactic flight would make Ms Salim the second space tourist from the UAE and the first female.

British billionaire Hamish Harding, who lived in Dubai, became the first space tourist from the Emirates when he flew on Blue Origin's suborbital rocket last year.

He was one of the passengers on the Titanic submersible that imploded in the Atlantic Ocean this month, killing him and four others.

Updated: September 25, 2023, 4:39 AM