Meet Manira Salim: Pakistan’s super woman

In lieu of Independence Day on August 14, all of August, the Daily Times will highlight individuals who continue to make Pakistan proud. Our 17th interview is with the first Pakistani astronaut Namira Salim who is also the first Asian to skydive over Moun

You are an explorer and an artist. Tell us about your upbringing. How much were you exposed to adventure and adrenaline as a child? What were your aspirations for yourself then?

According to my primary school teacher, I was a born artist, and I would agree to that more than what the media defines me as-ie, an explorer. I was brought up by a mother whose creative flair I inherited and a father who carved me into an independent and confident woman at a young age. I was not particularly introduced to adventure as a child but when I was in secondary school, I made a resolution. I remember the moment vividly when I looked myself in the mirror and said, “One day, you would touch the deepest depth of the ocean and reach the highest height of the skies.” I have been a student pilot, am a PADI certified scuba diver and next aspiring to be the first South Asian Space Tourist, in my capacity as Founder Astronaut of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic-the first private spaceline of the world.

You are the first Pakistani to have reached the North Pole in 2007 and the South Pole the following year. How did that happen for you? Tell us about the journey that you undertook for both these feats? How much fun was it and how challenging at the same time?

Yes, these were my “out of the world” experiences before breaking the orbit and I wanted to go as far as possible on Earth before reaching for the stars. I touched these two poles of the world in my own unique way by raising my peace flag “Peace Making with Nation Souls” on the top and bottom of the world. Heading to the North Pole in April 2007, was the most challenging due to ferocious weather conditions and a broken ice runway 89 degrees North-our ice camp-and most importantly, because this was my first rendezvous with such a massive expanse of ice! But it was really living on the Ice Camp in Antarctica at 80 degrees South for 10 days, just before heading for the South Pole in January 2008, which inspired me greatly. I met the most seasoned adventurers and mountaineers. I climbed an ice mountain and descended sliding down with members of my expedition; that was exhilarating! We went for an expedition on an ice tractor and had a great chef who spoilt us immensely in our comfy dinning tent. There is no running water out there on the Poles and the Polar ice camps. So I was overloaded with sanitisers and as much of water that was made available to us. It was a lot of fun but this amazing experience came in the midst of the most challenging weather conditions and white outs, which had to abate before we proceeded to the geographic South Pole at 90 degrees South. I went to both poles during difficult times facing our nation and these were my pioneering peace expeditions on behalf of the nation, as opposed to typical adventures.

What according to you has been your biggest achievement till date? What is the driving force behind all that you have achieved today?

My potential spaceflight and polar adventures have inspired women of my region and women and youth internationally to excel in all walks of life and to follow their dreams. Sometimes, women contact me and tell me how they used my example to be able to convince their parents to allow them to study abroad or work. My return on investment is the inspiration my adventures create for others. I feel extremely honoured and fortunate to represent my country as the first Pakistani and the first South Asian Space Tourist. I am a firm believer in destiny and therefore, nothing deters me in the face of danger. My inner-voice is my built-in navigation system and what drives me is my ability to take risks fearlessly.

You hold the distinction of being the first Pakistani to skydive over Mount Everest in 2008. Tell us about that exciting experience. Don’t you once feel afraid or sceptical about any of these seemingly-impossible feats?

I was the first Asian and first Pakistani to skydive over Mount Everest in October 2008 during the first historic Everest skydives. This adventure was by far, the most dangerous one. It was late monsoon and I was stuck for three weeks after my 10 day acclimatisation trek in the Himalayas. The situation became very tense just before my jump, in Sangboche – the world’s highest drop-zone, where despite a plane crash and an accident of two fellow jumpers, one of whom crashed in the rocks and broke several bones-my strong resolve kept me going. It may sound simple, but in the end, my faith did not fail me. I had the most spectacular dive from the roof of the world, without a single cloud and the most beautiful weather taking the plunge from above Mount Everest at 29,480 feet.

Are you a sporty person? Which sports do you enjoy playing or watching?

Not at all, but that’s what the media has defined me as-an explorer. In fact, deep down, I am a simple, creative person, a poet and an artist. I am shy and introverted-and my outrageous adventures helped me break that mould and build on the confidence my father instilled in me.

Describe a typical day in the life of Namira Salim.

That’s the toughest question. Every day is different and every day is an adventure; everyday, I light a new dream and every day, I grasp a new star. That is how I live life every single day. Above all, I spend time with myself and with everything that reminds me of our Creator.

How did space travel happen for you? What training did you undergo for that? What was your routine like – during training and in flight?

Space makes my DNA. I was born believing that I would go to space one day. I was always enchanted by the mystery of the night sky and the beauty of the stars. I always felt a deep connection -as if I belonged there. I heard about the $10 million Ansari X Prize winning flight, which was the first private manned spaceflight in October 2004. Media was abuzz with Sir 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 their offices. In January 2006, I was selected as Virgin Galactic’s Founder Astronaut out of 44,000 candidates. In March 2006, Richrd himself launched me to the world press in Dubai as one of the earliest founders of Virgin Galactic and I was extremely fortunate to have been launched in Pakistan in August 2006 as the first Pakistani astronaut; a title, very dear to me. It was my sub-orbital spaceflight training that I have undergone. I trained in the world’s most advanced high performance centrifuge, the STS-400 at the Nastar Centre in the US under the supervision of Virgin Galactic. It was a full simulation and a fully immersive experience into the way the actual spaceflight will be during ‘Launch/Release, Rocket Motor Ignition, Climb to Altitude, Weightlessness, Re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.’ The training process assessed my ability to tolerate and adapt to increasing gravitational forces and motion sickness during my potential sub-orbital space flight. 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.

What is your vision for Pakistan and what does it mean to be Pakistani for you?

A peaceful and tolerant Pakistan, as I knew it when I lived there in the 1980s. Being Pakistani means a lot and until now, I have not given up my passport. I have remained loyal to my roots -despite having gone to the farthest ends of our planet.

What are you currently working on? Ever thought of writing a book on all your exciting endeavours?

I have just set up my non-profit initiative Space Trust and we are thoughtful leaders in making Space the New Frontier for Peace. It was inaugurated last November by HSH Prince II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco, where I am based since almost 20 years. I was greatly honoured to launch this event in partnership with ROSCOSMOS, the Russian Federal Space Agency, SUPARCO, the National Space Agency of Pakistan-amongst other official partners from Monaco. I have started writing a book about my story and it is evolving at its own pace because it will be tied in to my non-profit work-my most exciting endeavour, yet. Stay tuned.

Many men, women and even children in Pakistan take inspiration from you and seek to scale heights and travel in space. Why aren’t there any training schools, guides or coaches to encourage these kind of pursuits? Do you plan on opening such institutions etc?

In my humble capacity and as a Patriotic Pakistani, I have contributed a lot toward our Space industry and in the field of transfer of Space technology to Pakistan. Next, I will be bringing educational programmes to Pakistan to encourage Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics (STEAM) Education for creating equal opportunities for young girls and also, student space art competitions, in partnership with our space partners. This is a good start for Space Trust and I would encourage any interested primary and secondary schools to visit our website www.spacetrust.com, learn about us and endorse our lead programme in “Making Space the New Frontier for Peace.”

“I was in secondary school when I looked myself in the mirror and said, ‘One day, you would touch the deepest depth of the ocean and reach the highest height of the skies'”

If you were made president for a week, what issues facing the country right now would you address first and foremost?

I have no desire to enter Pakistani politics! However, I am currently promoting one message to all world leaders, alike through Space Trust: At the dawn of Commercialisation of Space, the final frontier opens to all sectors. So why not open space to world leaders and peace makers and make “Space the New Frontier for Peace” to find innovative solutions for a peaceful world. I would address only one issue facing not only Pakistan, but the world at large-Securing Peace, Tolerance and Security in the backdrop of Terror-and viewing the Earth from a different perspective-ie, from space-where all political boundaries dissolve into one world, one humanity.

Are you attached with any charity work or organisation?

Under Space Trust, I am in the process of forming partnerships with leading foundations from the Space industry for peaceful applications of Space Science & Technology in the area of Disaster Risk Reduction. Every year during the monsoon season, the melting ice cap in South Asia, commonly referred to as the third pole of the world poses a constant threat to the ?most vulnerable, giving rise to annual floods and/or natural disasters. UN-SPIDER, in its mandate to improve disaster risk through the use of space technologies enables developing countries to use all types of space-based information in the full cycle of disaster risk reduction which helps in the overall cycle of disaster management, disaster mitigation and disaster preparedness. Through public and private partnerships, Space Trust aims to support of the work of UN-SPIDER, a programme under the auspices of the? United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), a UN Mandated forum established in 1959, with the mission of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space.

Tell us about your home life. Do you cook? How much time do you get to spend with your family?

Yes, I love to cook and am told I’m a decent cook. I am a very shy and introverted person and quite different from what the media carves me as. I visit my family often who are based in Dubai and what I enjoy the most, are my beautiful nieces and nephews who love to spend time with me!

We, at Daily Times, consider you one of our national heroes. Who are some of yours?

Of course, the Founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and all our noble heroes with whose past and present sacrifice, we have a beautiful Pakistan.

Achievements

First Pakistani To Touch The North & South Poles

Namira Salim is the first Pakistani to have reached the North Pole in April 2007 and the South Pole in January 2008, feats that occurred a century after being first achieved by others. 

Scaled The Highest Heights

Salim also holds the distinction of being the first Asian and the first Pakistani to skydive over Mount Everest during the historic First Everest Skydives 2008. 

Touching The Stars

Salim, being the only Pakistani member of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space liner, is widely known as the first Pakistani to travel into space. 

Honorary Diplomat

Prince Albert II authorised Salim to practice her function as the First Honorary Consul of Pakistan to the Principality of Monaco. On March 2012, Prince Albert II inaugurated the first Consulate of Pakistan in a high-profile ceremony organised by Namira Salim at the prestigious Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. Salim served as Honorary Ambassador of Tourism for Pakistan, appointed by the Ministry of Tourism. 

Raking In The Awards

Former president Asif Ali Zardari conferred Salim with one of the country’s highest civil decoration Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (Medal of Excellence). She was awarded the Power 100 Trailblazer Award by Pakistan Power 100, in London in 2013 for her efforts to promote international peace and harmony. Salim also had the distinction of being placed on the Pakistan Power 100’s “Women Power 100” list amongst other eminent personalities like former National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza and former foreign minister Hina Rabanni Khar.

Article Source: Daily Times

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