KARACHI (Reuters Life!) - Namira Salim, set to become the first Pakistani female to travel into space, hopes her journey will encourage other Muslim women to reach for the stars.
Salim is one of 100 space tourists who will board landmark commercial space flights being offered by Virgin Galactic, which plans to start operations by 2009.
Virgin Galactic is part of British entrepreneur and adventurer Richard Branson's Virgin Group.
"I'm hoping that when the flight happens I can break new ground for Muslim and Pakistani women to enter into fields considered out of bounds for them," Salim told Reuters.
In predominantly Muslim Pakistan, a country of 160 million people, women, especially in poor, rural areas are victims of violence and discrimination.
Last month, a woman minister in a provincial government was shot dead by an Islamist zealot who later said women should not be involved in politics.
President Pervez Musharraf has vowed to support reforms to empower women in the male-dominated society, but has said the ultimate responsibility for change lay with them.
Salim, 35, was born in Karachi, but now lives in Dubai and the south of France. She is a poet and an artist.
"I am not a professional astronaut but since a young age have been fascinated by space and astronomy," she said.
She was selected last year from 44,000 candidates to become a member of the Virgin Galactic Founders Club. She said her spaceship was being built and training will start by year-end.
"It has had a simulation test. But it is a new technology with lot of commercial potential. We start our training later this year," she said.
Virgin Galactic's first space flight will briefly break into orbit before returning to earth. Salim said she eventually hoped to do a full orbital flight, just like an astronaut.