Egyptian adventurer off to the edge of space

Marina Barsoum , Monday 11 May 2015

After scaling the world's highest peaks to complete the Adventurer's Grand Slam, Omar Samra is now to join 21 others on a private spaceship

Omar Samra during a press conference in Cairo on May 11, 2015 after completing the explorer Grand Slam (Photo:Marina Barsoum)

After becoming the first Egyptian to climb the world's top seven summits and ski across the South and North poles, 37-year-old mountaineer Omar Samra now plans to be the first of his countrymen to travel to the edge of outer space.

"In order to accomplish this plan, we need to reach 103 km above sea level as a beginning to outer space," Samra explained at a press conference in Cairo on Monday.

In December 2013, Samra became one of the winners of the Axe Apollo Space Academy competition in Florida, the United States, beating 112 competitors from the rest of the world on his path to becoming the first Egyptian to see the edge of space.

"I am not sure of the timeline for this adventure, but it will probably be from the middle to the end of 2016," he said.

The technology needed for the trip is still being built, he explained.

A science experiment

Starting in September, Samra is to visit 100 different schools in 28 governorates around Egypt to tell pupils all about his upcoming space odyssey, he said.

He has reached a deal with the science department at XCOR, the California-based company organising it, to conduct a science experiment while on the spaceship.

"The experiment should be about very simple ideas," he said, "so we will be holding a competition for all students at the schools I will be visiting to pick the best experiment and to actually take it on our trip."

The mountaineer also showed interest in taking care of Egypt's nature reserves.

He explained that, in cooperation with Egyptian volunteers and the United Nations, he has launched a project to protect the Wadi Degla Reserve near Cairo's Maadi district.

"I am also planning to take people with mental illnesses on adventure tours," he said. "I am planning to take some of those who are physically able to Sinai's Mount Saint Catherine."

Samra will also be organising more adventure tours through his own company, in cooperation with the Egyptian government.

Egypt could be making more efforts to engage with him and his ideas to promote adventure tourism in Egypt, he added.

Grand Slam: mission accomplished

"Today is an important day because I am announcing that I have accomplished something I have been dreaming of for a long time ago," Samra also said.

Samra is the only Egyptian – and the 33rd person in the world – to complete all stages of the Adventurer's Grand Slam: climbing to the summit of each continent, skiing the South Pole and skiing to the North Pole.

He achieved the last two in December 2014 and April 2015 respectively.

It was a 20-year-old dream, he said on Monday. He had been dreaming of climbing the world's highest mountain Everest ever since he was 16.

He reached its peak in 2007.

"I encountered many challenges, especially during my North Pole trip," he said. "The weather was really cold [-33 Celsius], and in some areas we had to swim as we were travelling across the continent."

But remembering his family, singing Egyptian songs and focusing on his dream kept him going, he said.

Through his adventures, he wanted to give Egyptian youth positive energy for change.

'Impossible is nothing'

"One can do anything, even ten times more than one's capabilities," Samra told his audience on Monday.     

Among the attendees at the press conference were 22-year-old cyclist Galal Zekri, who cycled 7,000 km in four months, 32-year-old Mohamed Salam, who wants to travel to planet Mars and never return, and Ahmed Khaled Saied, another contender in the US-based competition to travel into space, who was disqualified in its last stages.   

From the Left to the right: Mohamed Salam, Ahmed Saied, Omar Samra and Galal Zekri during Monday May 11, 2015 (Photo: Marina Barsoum)

All attended the conference to support Samra and to convey a message to Egyptian youth that "Impossible is nothing," they told Ahram Online.

"Wherever I go, people talk to me about the pharaohs," Salam said. "Now our generation needs to do something to make the whole world proud of Egypt."

As for Saied, the young Egyptian who competed for the space trip alongside Samra, he said that, through competing, he felt that he had conveyed a message to the West that Egyptians are capable of "the hardest achievements".

Of about 2 million applicants who had applied for the competition, only 109 qualified, he explained. Three of them were Egyptian.

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