Interview: Namira Salim

Space pioneer Namira Salim talks to Global Citizenship Review about her plans to organize the first peace summit to be held in space

REVIEW: What inspired you to go to space and how does it feel to be the first Pakistani to experience this?

Namira Salim (NS): Space makes my DNA. I was born believing that I would go to space one day. In my teenage years, I would announce to cousins and friends that I would grow up to become an astronaut. I was enchanted by the mystery of the night sky and inspired by the beauty of the stars. In late 2004, I stumbled upon news  about  the USD 10 million Ansari X Prize winning flight, which was the first privately manned spaceflight. 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, and in January 2006 I was selected as their Founder Astronaut out of 44,000 candidates. I feel extremely honored and fortunate to represent my country as the first Pakistani astronaut, my official title in the country, as well as the region as ‘the first South Asian space tourist’.

REVIEW: Can you tell us about your upbringing?

NS: I was raised in a traditional family and grew up in Pakistan until my high school years. My father served in the Pakistani Army for 23 years and my mother was a home-maker. After high school, I moved to Dubai to join my family, where my father had set up a heavy construction equipment business. I then moved to the US for further education and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in International Business from Hofstra University in Long Island as well as a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University in New York.

REVIEW: How did the Space Trust come about and what are the organization’s key objectives?

NS: Being part of the commercial space industry since 2006, I realized that space is opening to all sectors, encouraging public–private partnerships in an increasingly complex space environment and triggering a new space economy (which contributed over USD 300 billion in total revenue in 2016 alone). Moreover, with the growing applications of peaceful uses of space science and technology on Earth from the International Space Station, space has become a concrete ground for international cooperation. So, Space Trust was established on the ethos of advocating space as the new frontier for peace and finding innovative solutions for a more peaceful world — by opening space to world leaders and politicians for them to view Earth from a whole new perspective and to give space diplomacy a chance.

REVIEW: Can you outline for us the potential that commercialization of space holds for life on Earth?

NS: It’s about the democratization of space, where low-cost access to space is available to the average person and to all sectors alike. For instance, NASA now contracts private companies for commercial resupply services (which include SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Orbital ATK of Virginia, Sierra Nevada Corporation of Nevada) while Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are in a head-to-head race in the commercial space tourism sector. Asteroid mining is another promising aspect of commercialization of space, which holds the potential of bringing raw materials to Earth. Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are leading in this sector. Commercialization of space is also about the peaceful applications of space technologies on Earth via telecommunications satellites, disaster management, and experiments in zero gravity, to name a few. It is also about the development of private space stations in low Earth orbit, cislunar (between Earth and the moon) orbit, and deep space. Commercial access to space is the way of the future and set to span far into deep space.

REVIEW: Which current developments regarding space are most interesting to you?

NS: The movement of humans to Martian colonies, which will shape humans into space ambassadors and inspire everlasting peace on Earth beyond political boundaries.

REVIEW: What inspired you to begin organizing the first peace summit to be held in space, and how is this mission progressing?

NS: With space opening up to all sectors, why not open it up to world leaders and politicians? To that end, (zero gravity) 0G Summit — the first peace summit in space, inspired by G Summits on Earth — the lead initiative of Space Trust, will engage world leaders, religious figures, peace-makers, civil society, and youth to utilize space as a sustainable tool for peace-making and conflict resolution on Earth — at the dawn of a New Space Age — i.e., the commercialization or democratization of space. ‘0G Summit — Space Diplomacy in the Age of New Space’ has been presented at top space industry events since 2015 and supports the work of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), led by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs. The inaugural annual 0G Summit was launched on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last year and this year we are looking forward to hosting the same event on a larger scale on the sidelines of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly in New York, at the UN Headquarters, in September, to inspire world leaders with Space Trust’s thought leadership of innovative space diplomacy.

REVIEW: How can space be more accommodating of women and minorities?

NS: Generally, the space and STEM sectors are encouraging more and more female inclusion and gender equality in support of Planet 50-50 by 2030. Moreover, the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs’ Space for Women initiative strengthens capacity-building activities focusing on women and helps governments to equip and educate women regarding the technical and policy capabilities to integrate space technology and applications in their strategic planning towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Innovative approaches such as the provision of technical assistance, expert assistance, support for research and advisory services, and capitalization through capacity-building for the 21st century is a cross-cutting thematic priority on existing projects and programs of this UN office.

REVIEW: What is the potential for space to be a driver of socioeconomic development?

NS: The application of space science and technology is essential for the advancement of humankind and the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Additionally, space technology and innovations hold great potential for addressing new and emerging sustainable development challenges. Through a series of high-level fora in 2016/17, the collective space community, under the leadership of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs facilitated a constructive dialog between policy-makers and key stakeholders from government, civil society, business, and industry, among others, to address the broader perspective of space economy, space society, space accessibility, and space diplomacy. These fora were held in the lead-up to UNISPACE+50, held in June 2018, marking the 50th anniversary of the first UN Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to shape and position space activities as drivers for innovation, socioeconomic development, and diplomacy for a sustainable future.

REVIEW: Where do you spend most of your time lately and what do you enjoy about this city/country?

NS: Currently, I am cherishing my time in Dubai with my father. I love the Principality of Monaco, where I have been based for over 20 years. Monaco is the nerve center of my dreams; it is my space on Earth and it inspires me profoundly.

REVIEW: Can you share with us your plans for the future?

NS: To establish the annual high-level 0G Summit as the premier space peace summits on Earth in the lead-up to 0G Summit 2030 in orbit, and to continue developing Namira Monaco, Jewels from Space.

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