October 17, 2017

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From Breaking Barriers to Breaking Orbits: Hillary Clinton, the First Female nominee for US Presidency in a New Space Age

By Namira Salim, Founder and Chairperson, Space Trust.

As Mr. Donald Trump stands as the Republican nominee, long time democrat and women’s rights champion, Mrs. Hillary Clinton will face a challenge unlike she, nor any politician, has faced before.‎

However, facing and overcoming adversity is inherent in Mrs. Clinton’s DNA.  She, like so many women before her and undoubtedly those to come, is hard-wired to buck what has been deemed ‘tradition’ and to break trends and barriers; be these related to ethnicity, creed or gender.

In this new age of space exploration, which we call the advent of the ‘Commercialization of Space’ Mrs. Clinton’s efforts are timely; they ensure that the next generation of world ‎leaders and especially, women leaders, are given equal and ample opportunity to succeed.

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However, since I was born in Pakistan, I have no partisan bias in the U.S. voting process. Yet, despite my nation being a developing one, with its own burden of geopolitical crises in recent history, it remains the first Muslim nation in the world to have democratically elected the First Female Prime Minister, Ms. Benazir Bhutto in 1988.

And so today we see a paradigm shift – a U.N. Secretary General campaign is currently spearheaded by talented women candidates such as Ms. ‎Natalia Gherman‎,  former ‎Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Moldova, and Ms. Irina Bokova, Director General UNESCO originally from Bulgaria; we have long looked to the stewardship of Ms. Angela Merkel, German Chancellor and Ms. Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

Inspired by such women leaders, I have ventured to break down ‘man-made barriers’, having become the First Pakistani to have undertaken pioneering Peace expeditions to the North Pole in 2007 and South Pole in 2008, ‎as well as the first Asian to Skydive (tandem) over Mount Everest in 2008 and next, to become the first Pakistani to go to Space as Founder Astronaut of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the first private Space-line in the world.

Namira Salim Portrait 2016

My dream of ‘breaking orbits’ is one shared by many. And it is worth remembering that politics was not always Mrs. Clinton’s choice of career.

As a young girl, she too dreamt of becoming an astronaut and in fact, even wrote to NASA regarding her ambition.  In her 2003 Memoir ‘Living History’, Mrs. Clinton quoted NASA’s response as the following – ‘We are not accepting girls as astronauts.’  While today, ‘Gender Equality and Women Empowerment’ is regarded as a fundamental human right under the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals and remains a necessity for a peaceful and prosperous world, this was not always the status quo.

To date, 59 women have flown in space, out of a total of 536 space travelers. Russia’s Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in Space in 1963, less than two years after‎ fellow Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.  While Mrs. Clinton’s dreams of space flight were stifled then by the societal restrictions of the period, there were many who championed women’s rights before her to help secure all of our future ambitions, in arenas Mrs. Clinton would come to be known for championing.‎

Victoria Woodhull, for example, was also an activist, politician and author, much like Mrs. Clinton and was arguably, the first woman to run for the Presidency of the United States.

A free thinker, Ms. Victoria Woodhull created ‘Claflin’s Weekly,’ a radical publication, in 1870 alongside her sister. The journal gave them a soapbox to stand on, a platform to express their ideas on social reform, including women’s suffrage. The journal was also and controversially, the first to publish an English translation of Karl Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto.’‎

No doubt a strong supporter of women’s rights, Ms. Woodhull, who had already broken the ‘rules’ by becoming the first woman stockbroker, later established the Equal Rights Party, and shortly thereafter, became the first female candidate in history to seek the United States Presidency on the political group’s ticket.

No matter the result, Ms. Woodhull stands as a pioneer; a ‘Founder’ of an ideology that has driven American society to astronomical heights.  She would eventually live long enough to see women be given the right to vote in 1920. And today, her efforts have had a trickle down effect the world over, where we see a diverse array of women vying for prestigious roles in unprecedented competitions.‎

As a Founder Astronaut of Virgin Galactic, which will also make me the first (future) South Asian Space Tourist, I have pursued dreams that would have been unthinkable for women less than a generation ago; I trust my story has inspired women internationally and I hope to continue to encourage the Space generation of women leaders to reach for the stars.

Official Training Photo

Namira Salim, First (future) South Asian Space Tourist experiences G forces in the STS – 400 simulator at the NASTAR Center in the US, during her official spaceflight training with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

I am particularly sensitive to those regions where women and girls continue to be victims of discrimination and violence; where hope is an invaluable commodity and too often, in short supply.

Perhaps, female leadership with an ample dose of sensitivity is the answer?  Can the first female President of the United States and the first female Secretary General of the United Nations work hand in hand to accomplish such humanity, for example?

After Mrs. Clinton missed out on the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2008, she memorably said, “…Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it.”  While we can celebrate each crack, we can never rest until the ceiling is well and truly smashed and I look forward to my contributing to that process from Space.‎

As, to put it in Victoria Woodhull’s words, “While others prayed for the good time coming, I worked for it.” 

It is now up to the next generation of women leaders to follow suit.

Ms. Namira Salim is a Future Astronaut, globally recognised polar explorer, Founder and Chairperson of Space Trust, an enterprise devoted to Making Space the New Frontier for Peace.  She is based in the Principality of Monaco.  The views expressed here are her own.

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