Sultan bin Salman: First Arab astronaut
Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz participated in a space mission on the NASA Discovery shuttle on June 17, 1985, to be the first Arab Muslim astronaut.
While he was in space, Prince Sultan received a phone call from the late King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in which the latter told him, “We are proud of your successful mission in space, and we wish you a happy return.” The Prince replied, “I hope that such an opportunity will be available in the future for more Arab youth, and for our work to be good for Islam, Muslims and the entire Arab nation.”
After 36 years, Prince Sultan’s wish was fulfilled after the issuance of a royal order to establish a Saudi Space Authority under his leadership, through which he worked to prepare more Saudi youths to follow his example.
In 2018, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued royal orders that included the establishment of the Saudi Space Authority, headed by his son Prince Sultan (64 years old), after he exempted him under the same orders from the Presidency of the General Authority for Tourism and National Heritage.
With this decision, Prince Sultan, who was the first Arab and Muslim astronaut, became the head of the first Saudi Space Authority.
In his first statement after he was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Saudi Space Authority, Prince Sultan affirmed his keenness for this new body to contribute to the elevation of the Kingdom, its progress in the field of space, to harness its work to serve the nation and citizens, and to be a useful science that serves the citizenry and humanity as a whole.
Prince Sultan bin Salman was born in Riyadh on June 27, 1956, and obtained a master’s degree in social and political sciences from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in the United States in 1999.
He had a passion for aviation from a young age, and he refined that wish by obtaining an aviation license from the US Federal Aviation Authority in 1976 and by the Presidency of Civil Aviation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1978.
Sultan bin Salman in space
On June 17, 1985, Prince Sultan bin Salman set off on a space mission on NASA’s Discovery shuttle, which carried with it the second Arab satellite, in addition to the ideas of many Saudi scientific experiments, a joint medical experiment between scientists of the Kingdom and France, and other international and American experiments.
Prince Sultan stayed in space for 7 days, 1 hour and 38 minutes, becoming the first Arab Muslim astronaut and moving the Arabs from the stage of observing modern technological progress in the space field to keeping pace with and participating in this field.
When Prince Sultan returned, he told reporters that he took care of two things on the shuttle: the first was to listen to recordings of the Holy Qur’an before bed, and the second was to photograph the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from space.
Upon his return, he worked for more than 10 years in the Saudi Royal Air Force, starting with the King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh in 1985 and King Abdulaziz Air Base in Dhahran 1990, and then he retired with the rank of pilot colonel in 1996.
In 2001, he founded the Saudi Aviation Club and obtained the French certification of foreign aviation licenses in 2009.
In conjunction with his interest in aviation, Prince Sultan bin Salman assumed many positions, including the Chairman of the Steering Committee for the Preparation of the Five-Year Plan for Tourism Development at the Supreme Commission for Tourism to take over the position of President of the General Authority for Tourism and National Heritage after changing its name.