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Aabar Investments and Virgin Galactic to send an Emirati into space

Dubai: One lucky Emirati will be given the chance to fly into space, thanks to a competition launched by Aabar Investments and Virgin Galactic.

The winner will take a seat onboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, once it begins running commercial space trips.

Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson, said in Dubai earlier this year that commercial flights are all set to take off by the end of 2014.

A seat on Virgin Galactic’s spaceship is currently worth $250,000 and the US-based company has reportedly raised $80 million in deposits and sold 680 tickets.

Details of the competition have yet to be announced with Virgin Galactic CEO and President, George Whitesides, stating that it “is an ideal way for us all to give something back to the community of the UAE.”

Aabar Investments holds a minority but influential stake in Virgin Galactic and has plans to build a spaceport in Abu Dhabi.

“Without the support of Aabar Investments, this programme would not be where it is today. We are on the precipice of achieving our first goal — our first flight to space — which is expected to take place later this year,” Whitesides stated.

The Emirati winner would join a select list of Arab nationals to have entered into space. Saudi Sultan Salman Al Saud was the first Arab and Muslim to go into space in 1985.

Aabar Investments confirmed that the competition is only available to Emiratis and that further details will be announced at a later date.

Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), the parent company of Aabar Investments, will be involved in running the competition.

Earlier this month at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi, Whitesides said there were “a good number” of ticket holders from the Middle East but declined to say whether any members of the Gulf royal families had purchased tickets on SpaceShipTwo.

“We let our customers talk about who is flying. It’s their business.”

In 2007, Sharaf Group chairman, Ebrahim Sharaf announced he had purchased a ticket on board a Virgin Galactic flight to take off in 2009. It is unclear whether Sharaf still intends to fly into space given the delays in the Virgin Galactic programme.

The Sharaf Group could not be reached for comment.

Sharaf Travel is the UAE general sales agent for Virgin Galactic.