By Ben Flanagan and Lynne Roberts
EXCLUSIVE: Ibrahim Sharaf, chairman of the Sharaf Group, will ‘boldly go' where no other UAE national has gone before.
Ibrahim Sharaf, chairman of the Sharaf Group, will ‘boldly go’ where no other UAE national has gone before, ArabianBusiness.com can reveal.
Sharaf - whose company motto is 'the journey of a million miles begins with a single step' - will ride into space in late 2009.
The Emirati's airline of choice will be Virgin Galactic - the commercial space arm of Richard Branson's Virgin empire - which is offering flights priced at $200,000 for the first 100 travellers.
Senior Virgin executives will announce the news today at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
Staff are building a secret mock-up of the Virgin Galactic space cabin, from which the UAE's first space traveller will emerge.
"We have been waiting two years to announce the first UAE national to go into space and now we're ready. The Middle East is a huge market for Virgin Galactic, given the amount of wealth in the region, and we hope that this will be the first of many commercial space travellers from the Gulf," a Virgin Galactic source told Arabian Business magazine last month.
"The technology is ready and now it is a case of marketing this and raising the brand. We will shortly be opening a permanent office in Dubai, charged with the task of selling tickets to local and regional people. We think we will do very well from here," said the source.
The Sharaf Group was formed in 1976 as a shipping firm and has since diversified into industries including retail, electronics, logistics, financial services and real estate. The group has more than 2600 employees, according to its website.
Sharaf could not immediately be reached for comment although a source close to the company confirmed knowledge of the plans.
Ibrahim Sharaf's terrestrial vacations have been no less adventurous than his planned space flight. The Sharaf Group website claims that Sharaf has journeyed to the North Pole on more than one occasion, braving temperatures as low as -70°C.
"I don't fear the excruciating cold weather," he is quoted as saying.
His thoughts on zero-gravity are likely to make the headlines the world over.