Missions to space can drive Mena technology, says first Muslim in orbit

Space missions can power technological developments across the region, according to the Saudi royal who was the first Arab in space.

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman, who in 1985 also became the first royal and the first Muslim in space, told delegates at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi yesterday that Middle Eastern people would benefit from participating in space missions both by developing technology and bringing hope and inspiration to a troubled region.

Prince Sultan was part of the crew of Discovery STS-51G, which went into orbit for seven days to deploy three communications satellites in 1985.

Since then Saudi Arabia has gone on to design and manufacture 13 satellites.

It has also refined its production processes to produce satellites quickly and at low cost, and to establish a research centre to study the moon and solar system in cooperation with Nasa and Stanford University.

In 2014 the country launched the highly specialised Saudisat-4, with a payload equipped with high-tech sensors to measure gravitational forces in space.

The Saudi space programme was a precursor to the UAE space programme, which launched its own DubaiSat-1 satellite in 2009, DubaiSat-2 in 2013 and plans to launch its third satellite KhalifaSat in 2018.

“When I went into space in 1985 there was a lot of politics just as there is today, and the late King Fahd said to me ‘be diligent and come back with something’.”

And so we assembled a science team and that became the basis of the Saudi Space Programme,” Prince Sultan said at the event at the Abu Dhabi Exhibition Centre.

Looking to the future, Prince Sultan said that he hoped space programmes in the UAE and Saudi Arabia would help to give hope to people across the Middle East.

“We are living in a turbulent world today and the Arab World is the loser from these conflicts. Young people are emigrating in their hundreds and thousands every day.

“This is a disaster for the Arab World and for all of humanity,” Prince Sultan said. “This programme promotes bringing people together.”

Prince Sultan was introduced on stage by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. He told delegates about his plans to colonise Mars through the Buzz Aldrin Space Institute in Florida.

Describing himself as a “global statesman of space”, Aldrin told the summit: “There is a clear need around the world for a strong, vibrant, cutting- edge space agenda in the 21st century.

“I want to welcome you to Mars,” the 86-year-old space veteran said. “I want to bring the UAE into a small community which will be working, and I believe, living on the only other habitable planet in our solar system by 2040.”


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Lucy Barnard

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