The ongoing legacy for human spaceflight in the region

03 April 2020
The ongoing legacy for human spaceflight in the region

The history of the Arab world in astronomy dates back to the 9th century, when Arabs were renowned for their work throughout the Islamic Golden Age. During this time, the House of Wisdom, which supported astronomical research was established in Baghdad by Abbasid caliph Al-Ma'mun.

Arabs and Muslims have built a great legacy in astronomy, leaving a large corpus of astronomical works available to date. For example, in the late 8thcentury, Muhammad al-Fazari was the first astronomer to build an astrolabe as an aid to finding the qibla; in the 9th century, Al Khwarizmi developed Zij al-Sindhind book, which contains tables for the movements of the Sun, Moon and planets; then, in the 11th century, Omar Khayyam documented the most accurate year length.

Long after the Islamic Golden Age, which resulted in many breakthroughs, Arabs have reclaimed their tradition in astronomy, reviving the space sector in the region. HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud became the first Arab and Muslim to travel to Space on 17 June 1985, where he spent seven days in orbit and helped deploy a satellite for Arabsat with NASA. Prince Sultan served as a great inspiration, making a mark in the region and the entire world.

Prince Sultan’s experience had a great impact on the UAE in particular, a country that has demonstrated a strong commitment to space since the time of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in the 1970s. Back then, the visionary Sheikh Zayed met with three astronauts from the Apollo 17 mission team: Gene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt. Sheikh Zayed played a key role in driving the UAE’s interest in Space and emphasized the importance of exploring Space for the benefit of humanity.   

In 1988, Sheikh Zayed met with Prince Sultan following his return from Space, where he inquired about the smallest details of Prince Sultan’s journey. Sheikh Zayed was always interested in the space sector and saw an incredible potential in exploring Space. He also had a far-sighted vision of the UAE’s capabilities in the space sector. The UAE has been proud of Sheikh Zayed’s avant-garde thinking, hence embraced his vision of exploring Space and utilizing it.

Sheikh Zayed’s vision and Prince Sultan’s historical milestone were the stepping-stone for driving the UAE and the region’s enthusiasm in exploring Space. Since then, the UAE has been working on achieving its ambitious space projects to establish a leading position for the region within the global space sector.

The UAE has made major achievements in the space sector, which include launching the UAE Astronaut Program, launching 10 satellites in orbit, signing more than 30 agreements to support the space sector, attracting investments worth over AED 22bn in the space economy, among others.

The UAE has also launched its first Emirati astronaut to Space, which counts as great milestone in the UAE’s history. Hazzaa Al Mansouri successfully travelled to the International Space Station (ISS) on September 2019, where he performed various experiments and was in contact with youth from across the UAE, motivating them to become future space pioneers.

Al Mansouri’s passion about Space and desire to pave the way for future generations to explore Space was brought on by Prince Sultan. As a young student, Al Mansouri saw a photo of Prince Sultan, the first Arab astronaut in his fourth-grade schoolbook, which was a turning point in the life of Al Mansouri. Since then, Al Mansouri has been pursuing his dream of exploring Space.

Not only was Al Mansouri the first Emirati and third Arab to travel to Space, but he also was the first Arab to travel to the ISS. His mission came 30 years after the launch of Syrian Mohammed Faris to Space in 1987, and 32 years after Prince Sultan travelled to Space in 1985.

Al Mansouri was selected as part of the UAE Astronaut Program. The program aims to develop a national team of astronauts that can achieve the country's aspirations in taking part in scientific and manned space missions. In its first round, the program received more than 4,000 applicants, which reflects the passion of the UAE’s youth for the space sector.

The second round of the program has also seen a wide interest from people coming from different backgrounds and various age ranges, where the youngest applicant is just 17 years old, while the oldest is 60! The level of qualified candidates that the program has seen is phenomenal, and demonstrates Emiratis’ enthusiasm about joining the space sector for the benefit of the region.

Following the successes of the Arab astronauts, the UAE is continuing its work to enhance the Arab world’s leading position in Space, where it is planning to launch the Emirates Mars Mission this year to help humanity gain a better understanding of Earth and its atmosphere.

Additionally, as part of its efforts to promote collaboration among Arab countries and enhance the Arab world’s contribution to the global space sector, the UAE has launched the Arab Space Cooperation Group. The group aims to to consolidate Arab capabilities in the space industry and enhance the region’s contribution to science research and development.

The close ties between the UAE and KSA and their mutual interest in the space sector solidify their partnership and their passion about sharing knowledge and experience. Recently, the UAE Space Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Saudi Space Commission, chaired by HRH Prince Sultan. The MoU entails cooperation in space activities for peaceful purposes, building technical and scientific capabilities, and exchanging knowledge and expertise.

Following Prince Sultan’s footsteps in Space is essential for driving innovation, raising people’s awareness of the space sector, and inspiring youth to follow the same path, which is key for raising the names of more Arabs among the world’s best astronauts.