DUBAI // He’s already climbed the world’s highest peaks, but now Omar Samra is preparing for a journey that will take him higher than he ever imagined.
The 38-year-old Dubai resident will become the first Egyptian in space when he boards the XCOR Aerospace Lynx spacecraft on its voyage to Earth’s outer orbit.
Almost three years ago, Mr Samra was one of two million people who entered a competition offering the chance for a place on board one of the world’s first commercial spacecraft.
He was the only Arab selected, along with 22 other winners from 22 countries.
“When I won it felt really surreal because it was such a childhood dream of mine to go into space,” he said. “For somebody who comes from Egypt, we don’t really have a direct route to space – there’s no national space programme or anything like that, so I’d assumed it was an impossible dream.”
It will take Mr Samra three minutes to leave Earth’s atmosphere, travelling at three times the speed of sound. Then he and the other passengers will spend around 30 minutes in space before beginning their descent.
“I’m sure the view from up there is very humbling, it puts everything into perspective I guess,” said the adventure travel company boss.
As Mr Samra gazes down upon the Earth, he may catch a glimpse of some of the mountains he’s conquered during his adventures. He has skied to both Poles and climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents
“I know what it feels like to be on the top of Everest, so I imagine that being up in space feels something like that,” he said. “It’s about 12 or 13 times in order of magnitude in terms of how high Everest is. We’re going to be about 103 kilometres above sea level.”
Mr Samra’s desire to spend time in high places, where there’s little oxygen, seems all the more surprising given that he suffered from asthma as a child.
“For a large part of my childhood I couldn’t play any sports, let alone climb mountains,” he said.
He got a taste of what life will be like in space during trials for the contest, when along with 110 finalists he was taken to Orlando and put through five days of testing “to see how we would cope with life in space”.
“We were put through challenges such as a G-force centrifuge, fitness and teamwork tests, and a physics exam, then the winners were selected. Buzz Aldrin himself handed me the ticket, which was one of the most outstanding moments of my life.”
Although the date for the trip is as yet undetermined, Mr Samra estimates it will be within the next two to three years.
“It’s tough to judge with space, it might get further delayed because of funding and technology issues. But I’ve got a guaranteed spot on board as soon as they’re done with building and testing it.”
For now, he just has to address the small issue of finding travel insurance for a trip that’s literally out of this world.
“I think it’s one of the things they’re trying to figure out – who is going to underwrite the trip and that stuff,” said Mr Samra. “But even if they can’t figure out the insurance details, I’m still going. I’m not too worried about that.”
Apart from the competition winners, other passengers booked in for a flight to space with the Dutch American include Live Aid campaigner Sir Bob Geldof and DJ Armin Van Buuren, who have paid more than US$100,000 for a ticket.