I had the opportunity to sit down with Namira Salim and speak to her about her ambition to bring a 2030 Peace Summit to Space, her trip to both the north and south pole and being launched personally by Sir Richard Branson in Dubai as one of the earliest Founders of Virgin Galactic. A very interesting and dynamic woman indeed and one who is paving the way for space exploration.

MJ: Bring us back to the 8-year old Namira. What were your interests like at that age?

NS: Space makes up my DNA. As a child, I always felt enchanted by the mystery of the night sky and the beauty of the stars. There was this innate fascination that led me to believe that I would go to space one day. I often spent my evenings navigating the night sky and attending star gazing evenings with Astronomy groups. By the time I was a teenager, I announced to my cousins and friends that I would grow up to become an astronaut.

MJ: How did you start to think about space and how it will affect all of us in years to come?

NS: Having always kept my dream of going to space alive, I heard about the $10 million Ansari X Prize winning flight, which was the first privately manned spaceflight in October 2004. Media was abuzz with Richard Branson’s plans to license this technology and create the first commercial space-liner of the world –Virgin Galactic. I first called Virgin Galactic in early 2005 when they had not even set up offices. In January 2006, I was selected as Virgin Galactic’s Founder Astronaut out of 44,000 candidates. In March 2006, I was fortunate to have been launched personally by Sir Richard Branson in Dubai as one of the earliest Founders of Virgin Galactic. 

Ironically, after this launch the news went global and the little girl who once dreamt of going to space with NASA, was launched in Pakistan nationally to a land of 200 million people, as the “First Pakistani Astronaut.” I am most proud of this title and believe that it is the strong faith in one’s inner-voice, which manifests into reality.

The world has just been ushered into a New Space Age and we are actually laying the foundation of the future of space technology. This is not about the rich and famous going to space—but, marks the advent of commercial spaceflight, which is low cost and accessible to all. In other words, as one of the Founder Astronauts of Virgin Galactic, I have invested $200,000 early into this project to make these flights affordable for every person who has ever dreamt of going to space. The first Trans-Atlantic flight, I believe in 1939 cost $50,000 and today anyone can afford to fly across the Atlantic, for as low as a few hundred dollars. Similarly, the private space industry will be a consumer industry and will make way for researchers, scientists, satellites and payloads into space at a much more affordable price and in an environmentally friendly manner. What’s more, peaceful applications of space technologies have become part of our daily lives as the international space station becomes a beacon for international cooperation in space. Therefore, through my non-profit initiative, Space Trust, I promote Space as the New Frontier for Peace. Our lead initiative, (Zero Gravity) 0G Summit has been presented at top space industry and UN events for two years, with the high-level launch in the presence of two former Heads of State; having just taken place on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly, on September 18th to advocate the first peace summit in space by 2030, in support of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development agenda.

MJ: Tell us about your visits to the Arctic and Antarctica and what were you hoping to achieve from those visits?
NS: I undertook my Polar exploits to test my own limits and they were followed by my involvement with Virgin Galactic. After my launch as the first Pakistani Astronaut, I was appointed as Pakistan’s Tourism Ambassador in 2007. So, I decided to raise my universal Peace flag “Peace Making with Nations Souls” at the North Pole in April 2007, becoming the first Pakistani at the North Pole, which became a great source of inspiration to women and youth like. The positive press that followed inspired me to head for the South Pole in January 2004, again making me the first Pakistani at the world’s southern extreme. I was also the first woman from Monaco at the North Pole and the first person from Monaco at the South Pole, a feat I’ve shared with Prince Albert II, our Sovereign Prince, the only Head of State to have been to the two poles.

MJ: Tell us about your experience of skydiving over Mount Everest during the historic First Everest Skydive 2008?

NS: A lot like being in Zero G! I jumped (tandem) from 29, 480 feet with oxygen, just over Mount Everest. During free fall, I was descending at 158 miles/hour, but I felt as if I was totally suspended in thin air! There was no relative distance to feel the speed of the free fall. The expanse and beauty of the Himalayas was un-matched to any other drop-zone. We landed at the world’s highest drop zone Shangboche, at 12,350 feet –an altitude from where skydives usually begin. I was so honoured to touch the third pole of the world in my own unique way and to have become the first Asian to Skydive (tandem) over Mount Everest.

MJ: I know you have been on a journey with Richard Bronson. Are you collaborating with him on any projects?

NS: As a Founder Astronaut of Virgin Galactic, I have been on a journey with Richard along with our fellow astronaut community to make the dream of space travel affordable and accessible to all. Since 2006, we have been part of every milestone event with Richard and mission control at Virgin Galactic to develop MotherShipEve and SpaceShipTwo, the vehicles which will make the first private space line of the world. Richard will be on the inaugural flight and has always said his family will be on it with him to prove the viability and safety of Virgin’s operations. I am looking forward to engaging Richard with Space Trust and the 0G Summit thought leadership since news about our UN launch is already abuzz at Virgin Galactic’s Mission Control and our future astronaut community.

MJ: You have many accomplishments, what are you hoping to achieve before the 2030 Peace Summit?

NS: There are several concrete milestones I am already planning in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), in collaboration with the space community and the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs toward 0G Summit, the First Peace Summit in Space by 2030. By mid-2020’s, as the International Space Station retires, we can expect to usher the first private space station in orbit. This could make a perfect platform for such a convening in space.

MJ: You have started Space Trust which is a non-profit. What is the mission of this nonpartisan organization?

NS: Space Trust is a non-partisan social enterprise that champions world peace through novel Space themed initiatives to inspire change, encourage dialogue and enrich education. Its lead initiative, 0G Summit, advocates Space as the New Frontier for Peace to find innovative solutions for a peaceful world. Space Trust promotes mankind’s responsibility in protecting Space for future generations.

MJ: Let’s discuss educating our youth, where does the school system need to spend their time when it comes to educating the whole child?

NS: I believe in inter-disciplinary and integrated education. I am not a scientist. I was not able to pursue science education and as a primary and secondary student in Pakistan, I feared I could never go to space if I didn’t pursue the sciences. But above all, I was a born artist and a dreamer. I believe inspiration, motivation and the right mentors plays the biggest role in shaping the mind in formative years. While what lead me to the stars is not STEM education, I understand it is important in space exploration and scientific careers. I do however, always support and like to add the “A” for “Arts” and advocate STEAM.

MJ: What would you tell your 8-year old self today?

NS: Dream, believe, propel and soar!

To learn more about Namira Salim: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namira_Salim