Dubai: Ebrahim Sharaf, a Dubai-based businessman who runs electronics stores and travel agencies, will be the first UAE national in space with the launch of Virgin Galactic, a new commercial space flight initiative by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

"I am very excited about going to space with Virgin Galactic, it's a once in a lifetime experience for me," Sharaf said in a release. "Today, sub-orbital journeys represent the ultimate travel, if not, life experience," he said in a statement, in reaction following yesterday's announcement.

Sharaf, a lifelong traveller and adventurer, has visited the North Pole on two separate occasions and spent 24 days journeying across Siberia. But there's nothing he's done to help prepare for this next trip, where he will be one of the first 100 astronauts under the Virgin Galactic Service.

To date, there have been less than 500 men and women who have journeyed into space, according to Virgin Galactic.

Sharaf will spend $200,000 on the flight, which is likely to take off from a launch site in the southwest United States. The flight includes a three-hour orbit after climbing through the stratosphere to reach space.


Joining Sharaf as Galactic's first customers are Victoria Principle, actress and businesswoman, Bryan Singer, director of Superman Returns, a member of an unmentioned royal family, as well as Branson and his children, Sam and Holly.

Salah Sharaf, chairman of Sharaf Travel, said he was pleased his travel agency was selected as the Virgin Galactic's 'Accredited Space Office' for the Middle East region, and that the prospects were very bright for space tourism in the Middle East.

"Virgin Galactic, together with expertise of Sharaf Travel in the Middle East market, is poised to turn the dream of going to space into a reality for many people. It's a once in a lifetime experience," Salah said.

Virgin Galactic is only one of several outfits planning commercial flights to the final frontier. Malaysia is making plans to offer space flights, as are Space Adventures, which has selected a launch site in Ras Al Khaimah. Sharaf is president and co-founder of Sharaf Group, which owns electronics stores and travel agencies.

In addition to being the first Emirati to experience the zero-gravity effects of space, Sharaf could also possibly be the first Arab to do so.

Last September, Anousheh Ansari, a telecom entrepreneur, became the first Iranian-born astronaut when she paid roughly $20 million for the journey.