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Egyptians in outer space
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 06 - 12 - 2016

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
(T.S. Eliot)

This is exactly what Egyptian adventurer Omar Samra has done. Samra was born in London in 1978 and moved to Cairo with his family only a few weeks later. At the age of 11, he suffered from a severe chest infection that motivated him to pursue his dream of becoming the first Egyptian to climb Mount Everest. His subsequent career has been full of similar achievements.
Samra graduated with honours in economics and did a minor in Business Administration at the American University in Cairo. After working for six years in finance he went back to earn his MBA from the London Business School with a focus on entrepreneurship. In 2006, he completed a suborbital mission operations course at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and a rocket science and human spaceflight course at MIT, according to his notably full curriculum vitae.
He began his career in London and Hong Kong, but then returned home and after two years abandoned his corporate job in order to follow his passion for adventure. He started Wild Guanabana, an adventure travel company that helps re-connect individuals with nature and ultimately themselves through authentic and life-transformational experiences around the globe.
Samra discovered his passion for adventure when he toured Spanish Andalusia on a bicycle for 11 days during a work holiday. This was followed by a 370-day continuous journey across Asia and Latin America. So far, he has visited 80 countries, and on 17 May 2007 he succeeded in becoming the first Egyptian and youngest Arab to climb the 8,850m of Mount Everest, fulfilling his youthful dream.
After that he set a goal to climb the “seven summits,” the highest mountain on each continent, and from 2008 to 2013 he succeeded in becoming the first Egyptian to do that too. In December 2014, Samra became the first Egyptian to ski to the South Pole and reach the North Pole. He is thus now the first Egyptian to complete this explorer's “grand slam” of multiple adventures.
Samra has given over 150 motivational talks in more than 10 countries, including TEDx conferences in Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Oregon in the US. In 2013, he was selected by US astronaut Buzz Aldrin and a team of judges as the winner of a global space competition involving 68 countries and two million participants to earn a ticket to go into space with XCOR Aerospace. He is set to become Egypt's first astronaut in 2018.
After the passing away of his wife in 2013, Samra decided to continue her work and co-founded Marwa Fayed's Toy Run (MFTR), a charity that collects used and unwanted toys from cities around the world and redistributes them to kids who need them. The charity teaches the concept of giving from a young age and minimises waste. To put more smiles on children's faces, Samra announced the launching of the Make Space Yours Project in Cairo on 13 November, which targets 100 schools and universities in Cairo and other Egyptian governorates.
It aims at motivating, exciting, and raising the interest of university and school students in space science and exploration by engaging them in competitions. With its initial launch in Egypt, the project hopes to expand to the United Arab Emirates and other regional countries.
University students will be required to submit ideas to be tested in micro-gravity. The winning experiment will accompany Samra on his space flight abroad the XCOR Aerospace in 2018. The competition is designed to last throughout the academic year to allow maximum student engagement. School students, on the other hand, will be required to submit a 1,000 word paper describing their vision of building a space colony or spaceships travelling to other planets. The competition will relaunch every three months, and the winning students will participate in a three-day educational space camp organised by Wild Guanabana and its youth arm Muricata.
The Samra team will conduct a series of sessions to introduce the competition to students at Cairo universities. A road show will follow, targeting universities in other governorates including Alexandria, Sinai, Suez, and in Upper Egypt. At a recent press conference in Cairo, Samra gave further details about his projects. Attending were Ahmed Eissa, executive director of the Commercial International Bank, Dina Al-Mofti, executive director of the Injaz Misr Foundation, and Karim Khalifa, a founder of Digital Republic, one of the sponsors.

Going into space: “I had the idea of this project three years ago, and to see it come true now is amazing. I could not have started it without the help of many people,” Samra explained at the Cairo press conference.
“People would ask me ‘why do you constantly think of space?' My answer is that we live in the Milky Way galaxy, which is only one drop in the sea of the universe. We as human beings cannot ignore all this, as we have always had a tendency to explore our surroundings. Someday, we will be able to explore what is out there as a result of this curiosity. There are theories that the Ancient Egyptians had knowledge of space, as in the Seti II Abydos Temple there are hieroglyphics believed to resemble space ships,” he added.
“Ever since I was eight years old, I have always wanted to go into space, and this is why I made the starting age of the competition eight years old,” Samra said, adding that he intended to involve Egypt in any achievements he makes, this being one of his main motives.
“The idea is to make youth neither fear experiments nor failure, but to be creative instead. The idea is to show children that space is a field they can work in when they grow up, and not just as engineers who build spaceships. The project aims at enriching scientific research, as someday we will be living on other planets and will need all kinds of specialities like agricultural experts to grow food in space,” he said.
The project will not be able to cover all the schools and universities in Egypt, but any student can send in ideas even if he or she is not from one of the selected schools. The project's launch took place in AUC's Ewart Hall on 23 November and was repeated on 5 December in New Cairo and 13 December in 6th October City. The team will soon visit Alexandria, Upper Egypt and the Southern Sinai governorates.
“I hope that Omar and I can help today's young people. The focus in the future will be on scientists and space exploration. We want to prove that Egyptians can contribute with new inventions to be used in outer space,” said Mohamed Sallam, a candidate for the Mars One Programme that will send a group of four astronauts to Mars on a one-way trip for 15 years.
“We have been dealing with Samra for years, and we support the culture he represents. We share the same values, such as the spirit of teamwork, challenge, and creativity which are the ingredients of success. The more a society believes in such values, the more it believes in science, the more it becomes developed. This project is full of true patriotism and love for his country. We support Omar in showing his values to Egyptian youth and setting an example for them,” Eissa commented.
“Omar's idea is an excellent one as it seeks to increase research in Egypt, which is needed in all Egyptian universities and educational institutions. We support Omar because we want the investments of society to be spent on the welfare of society,” he added.
“Our organisation specialises in discovering and improving junior achievements in more than 100 countries worldwide. We are partners with the Ministry of Education and work with more than half a million students. We are interested in improving the skills, ideas, and culture of students as well as empowering them. So when Omar told us about his ideas we were very excited. The aim is to raise students' awareness about space, which widens their imaginations and the summit of their thoughts,” Al-Mofti said.
Khalifa said that Digital Republic was responsible for the marketing of the project via a Website and social media. “Many young people in Egypt use the Internet as a form of communication. We have at least 45 million Internet users in Egypt, more than 30 million Facebook users, five million Instagram users, and three million Twitter users. To communicate with young people in this way is very important and represents a large part of the project.”
“The website is the main source for young people to find out more about the project, learn more about space science, and submit their ideas. It was launched on 23 November at the project launch. There will also be a Facebook and Instagram page that include many videos to market the project and educate young people about space on Youtube as well as live updates.”
Led by Wild Guanabana, the project is supported by XCOR Aerospace, an American-Dutch company that is providing technical expertise and will fly the winning experiment in a payload worth $50,000 into space with Samra.
“The Make Space Yours Project represents a great platform to inspire youth about space science and develop young talents and eventually develop into a pillar of community outreach and dialogue among industry professionals for space experiments and innovations,” Samra commented. The team includes Ahmed Farid, scientist, an astronaut candidate, Amr Abdel-Wahab, founder and CEO of Astrotrips, a space-travel company, and Hamed Gamal, chapter head for Egypt at the Mars Exploration Society.
In December 2013, Samra was the only Egyptian and Arab to win a space flight abroad XCOR's spacecraft the Lynx II. Since then, he has completed Project PoSSUM, a part-NASA funded space-science programme that studies climate change. He has also been selected to work with project PHEnOM, a group of 25 citizen-scientist astronauts who aim to conduct multidisciplinary space research.
Samra has received several awards for his work, including UNDP National Goodwill Ambassador, one of the 100 Most Powerful Arabs under 40 (2016), the Young Achiever Award from the World Leadership Congress and Awards (2015), the Top Arab Social Media Influencer named by sheikh Mohamed Al-Maktoum of the UAE (2015), and the National Award of Achievement from the Egyptian ministries of sports (2007), youth (2007) and defence (2013).
“I would advise parents to allow their children to make mistakes. Some parents will not know the true abilities of their children unless they allow them to experiment. Many great ideas were a result of coincidences experienced by unexpected people,” Samra concluded.


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