By Aftab Zahoor
ISLAMABAD, Jan 12 (APP): Braving the extreme harsh weather, windchill and severe solar radiation, Namira Salim, the first Pakistani woman astronaut this time reached the South Pole to win more laurels for Pakistan. After becoming the first Pakistani to have reached the North Pole in April 2007, Namira ventured to become the first Pakistani at the South Pole and hoisted national flag on the snow land.
National flag she hoisted, was awarded to her by Caretaker Prime Minister Muhammadmian Soomro on December 24, 2007, during her fly by visit to Pakistan prior to her private expedition to 90 degrees South.
“It was only after combating brutal storms, strong winds and snow in Antarctica that I could proceed with my daring adventure to the South Pole,” she told APP on a satellite phone.
Aboard the Canadian Twin Otter (DHC-6) aircraft, although it was a challenging flight of just around five hours, but to have this small a window of clear weather meant many days of freezing at the ice camp at Patriot Hills, Antarctica.
As in the case of Namira’s North Pole expedition, the South Pole was her typical Antarctic expedition rather than skiing or trekking to the Pole. It was one with a universal message of peace and goodwill on behalf of her native country, Pakistan.
Upon arrival at the South Pole, the expedition was received at the Amundsen-Scott Station, a US research center. Subsequently, Namira and her team members spent a few hours at 90 degrees South, the bottom of the world.
When asked about her experience, jubilant Namira exclaimed, “with the world above, one has so much to look forward to. It is freezing summer here and thus, it is 24 hours daylight in this crystal white dessert of snow and hills.”
“I am very proud to be the first Pakistani to hoist the National Flag at the South Pole, and I do so with the peace, love and warmth from my country and my culture is representative of,” she said. “I also thank caretaker Prime Minister, Mohammedmian Soomro for kindly presenting me this National flag for the South Pole.”
Namira’s dangerous expedition, more challenging than her North Pole expedition, faced her with extreme weather conditions, risks of oxygen depletion in the body, dangers of windchill and severe solar radiation.
“On a more personal level, I undertook this risky expedition to also honour my beloved father and his heroic life and above all, his discipline which is the secret of all his success. And I want to thank my entire family for allowing me to follow my dreams,” she expressed in joy.
Namira’s South Pole equipment and gear list was extensive. And be it a -40 degrees C rated sleeping bag, a weather resistant parka and pants or a -60 degrees C rated boots or approved windstopper jackets, gloves and hats, Pakistan was the last place she could have picked any of these.
For all this and more, she stopped in New York to buy the warmest and best rated layers of light weight, mid weight and heavy weight gear.
From Pakistan, it took over 40 hours of flight time, plane connections and even an emergency landing before she arrived Putna Arenas, Chile, the Southern most top of South America.
It was from here that her expedition to the South Pole started aboard the Russian flight Ilyusin 76, an aircraft that looks no less than a large spaceship. However, this flight, a mere 4.5 hours only took off after several days of delay due to ferocious weather in Antarctica amid strong winds, snow and poor visibility.
During her stay at the ice camp she was faced with the coldest, windiest and driest weather on the planet, which is typical of Antarctica and which remained the biggest challenge for her onward expedition. While waiting for the weather to clear, Namira explored the local environment through smaller expeditions in and around Patriot Hills.
“Come snow, come storms, I am to ventured to become the first Pakistani at the South Pole,” she said expressing her emotions when struck due to harsh weather.
“I was in high spirits. I was determined to go there how harsh weather or how harsh windchill may be,” she expressed.
Her first leg of the journey was to Patriot Hills, the heart of Antarctica, the world’s fifth largest continent consisting of 91% of the world’s ice. Located at 80 degrees South, Patriot Hills is the home on ice to all Antarctic adventurers touching down at the blue ice runway aboard the Ilyusin 76.
“I am very happy. I cannot express my joy. I am again the first Pakistani woman to reach South Pole after my earlier expedition to North Pole,” she remarked from the coolest South.
“Pay my congratulations to the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan as well as the people of Pakistan for winning accolades for the country and the nation,” were her last remarks on phone from the South Pole.
North or South, she carries the National Flag and the message of love and peace as a Pakistani and continues winning laurels for the Nation.