WASHINGTON: Virgin Galactic made history by launching the first Pakistani woman into space on Friday, taking Namira Salim to the final frontier alongside two other travellers.
This was Virgin’s fourth commercial spaceflight. British advertising executive Trevor Beattie and American astronomy educator Ron Rosano were the two other passengers.
Galactic 04 set off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, at 1540 GMT (8:10pm Pakistan time) when Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity space plane lifted off beneath the wings of its carrier craft, known as Virgin Mothership (VMS) Eve.
Eve carried Unity high into the New Mexico skies, ultimately releasing the space plane at roughly 1624 GMT at an altitude of around 45,000 feet (13,700 metres). Unity then fired up its onboard rocket motor, powering its way to suborbital space.
“Release, release, release! Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Unity has successfully released from our mothership Virgin Mother Ship (VNS) Eve and ignited the rocket motor,” the company announced on its X account.
According to Virgin, the craft attained an apogee of 54.3 miles from the surface of the Earth, and hit a top speed of Mach 2.95 (nearly three times the speed of sound) during its short trip.
A photo released by the company showed passengers peering out the windows while floating around weightless.
The flight ended at 12:43pm EDT (1643 GMT), when Unity finally touched down at Spaceport America.
Commander Kelly Latimer and Pilot CJ Sturckow flew VSS Unity. Also aboard was Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses. Commander Nicola Pecile and pilot Jameel Janjua managed the cockpits of VMS Eve. Jameel Janjua is a Pakistani-Canadian.
Namira Salim is Virgin Galactic’s Astronaut 019. She is a self-described world traveller, entrepreneur and artist with a diverse background in space engagement.
Before take-off, she wrote on her Twitter account that Virgin Galactic’s founder Richard Branson had wished her a successful flight. “Proud to use the same Astronaut suite (sic) to suit up and ready my Spaceflight gear, as the one used by Richard Branson in July 2021,” she added.
On Friday, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Masood Khan, also congratulated Namira Salim on her feat, saying: “Because of you our nation flag fluttered in space today.”
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2023