Pakistan plans to send its first astronaut to space by 2022. The South Asian nation won’t be sending up its own rocket, however. Rather, Pakistan’s first astronaut is scheduled to ride on a Chinese spacecraft, Federal Minister of Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry told the Nikkei Asian Review.
Chaudhry said they will begin making preparations for the mission next year. Although he didn’t elaborate, he did say that the goal was to benefit the nation’s “defense-related areas.” He also said up to 50 Air Force pilots will be screened to possibly become Pakistan’s first astronaut, and one will be selected for the mission in 2022. After starting with 50 pilots, they will cut that list in half before narrowing down their search to just one person.
The minister later shared more details about the plan to send Pakistan’s first astronaut to space in an interview with The Express Tribune. Chaudhry downplayed the challenges the nation will face as it sends its first astronaut, saying that the risks are no concern because they will collaborate with China for the mission.
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He said Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) and the Pakistan Air Force will conduct the mission together. He explained that they are choosing from among the PAF’s pilots because most astronauts from around the world have an air force background.
Chaudhry also pointed out that Pakistan was the second Asian nation after the Soviet Union to launch a space program. Pakistan’s program began in 1962, but the nation’s governments haven’t done much to advance it. Chaudhry hopes this will change with the upcoming mission, adding that “fast-paced development” has been going on at Suparco since 2002. He expects the program to “reach an advanced stage by 2030.”
When asked about why the space race is being made a priority at a time when the nation is dealing with serious economic woes, he said the program will benefit other sectors. He specifically mentioned defense, energy and agriculture as areas that could benefit from the advancement of the space program. However, he also warned that the program could be delayed, adding that even neighboring India’s space program was delayed.
Sources reportedly told the Tribune that even though Suparco can build satellite, it depends on China for its launches.
The first astronaut of Pakistani ethnicity is actually Namira Salim, but instead of being sent by her home country, she works for Virgin Galactic as an astronaut, according to Samaa.