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The first Arab astronaut, the first Muslim to go into space, was Sultan bin Salman al-Saud, a member of the Saudi royal family. He is the grandson of King Abdulaziz bin Saud, the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), and the nephew of the next four kings (Saud, Faisal, Khalid and Fahd) and the current one, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.

He was educated in the United States, graduating from the University of Syracuse. Since 1982, he worked in the Department of International Relations of the Ministry of Information of the KSA, dealing with the use of artificial satellites for receiving information in the KSA and transmitting information about the KSA to foreign countries.

On June 17-26, 1985, he participated in the space flight of the space shuttle Discovery as a payload specialist. In the same year, he was awarded the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of the KSA Air Force. He has a civil aviation pilot's certificate and jet aviation pilot qualification.

In April 2009, he headed the Ministry (Commission) for Tourism and Antiquities.

The magazine publishes interviews with Sultan bin Salman al-Saud.

Question: You are the first Arab cosmonaut, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, and the first Muslim to be honored with a spacewalk. Why did NASA choose you, and not another representative of the Arab world, to make the space flight on Discovery? Was Saudi Arabia scientifically and technologically ready to take part in such a space project at that time?

Answer. Employees of the Arab satellite communications organization Arabsat* were very excited to learn about the possibility of sending an Arab astronaut into space. At the same time, they had no idea who exactly could participate in this pilot project.

The question of choosing a candidate turned out to be very difficult. 22 Arab states take part in space research, and, of course, each of them would like to see their compatriot in space. It took very difficult and sensitive negotiations to agree on the views of the parties and reach a common solution. A lot of diplomatic efforts were made to decide on the candidacy of one of the countries, without causing discontent or resentment of other Arab States. Besides, we were running out of time. The final decision had to be made as quickly as possible, otherwise we might miss this great opportunity.

Arabsat executives took the initiative by holding talks with officials from a number of Arab States. In the end, there was almost a unanimous opinion: the decision on the candidate should be made by Saudi Arabia - as a country with high authority and occupying a special position both in the Arab and in the entire Muslim world as a whole. In addition, it is Saudi Arabia that makes the largest contribution to the financing of space research, and the headquarters of Arabsat itself is not located anywhere, but in our country.

As you know, Riyadh shows great interest in space programs and has achieved significant success in creating its own system of communication satellites. Taking into account all these factors, negotiations between the co-founders of Arabsat and the management of a number of ve-

* The main tasks of Arabsat are the design and creation of a satellite communication system and its management, providing telecommunications services to Arab countries in accordance with international standards (approx. translation).

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The Council of Arab States decided that the Arab countries and the entire Muslim world should be represented by a citizen of Saudi Arabia.

As for me personally, I became a candidate, one might say, by accident. A close friend of mine called me and said that a selection of candidates for possible participation in the Arabsat space program, namely, a flight on a spacecraft, was underway. He was instructed to recommend suitable candidates from civilian specialists who, together with the military, would be included in the group of candidates. He asked me if I would like to be included in this list, given my interest in space and the fact that I am a pilot by profession.

I replied that I didn't have any experience in the space industry and that I wasn't really interested in trying my hand at it. At the same time, he added that my qualifications are quite high and that I have received good training in flight, which, of course, can be very useful. After consulting with my parents, I decided to agree and informed my friend that since it was still only a preliminary selection, I would not object to being included in the list along with other candidates.

Question: After completing your mission on the space shuttle Discovery, you contributed to the creation of the International Association of Space Explorers (ASE), which unites all astronauts and cosmonauts who have been in space. Moreover, you have been a member of the Board of Directors for a number of years. Is it an organization dedicated to maintaining the global cosmic order, or is it a one-of-a-kind space association with a fixed membership?

Answer: The International Association of Space Explorers (ASE) is a non-profit organization founded in 1985. It unites 350 astronauts from 35 countries. Its mission is to serve as a platform for dialogue and exchange of ideas between astronauts, support the development of space science, inform the international community about environmental problems related to space, and encourage international cooperation in space exploration. The first meeting of astronauts took place in 1985 in France after the shuttle Discovery completed its mission.

Question: In your book "We All Live on the same Planet"1, when talking about your participation in space flight, you emphasized two points. First, that you represented the Arab Satellite Communications Organization, i.e., an Arab-Muslim organization working in the field of space research. Secondly, that at the same time the Discovery crew was multinational, multi-religious. There was even a woman among its members. In this regard, say: what did you mean by giving the book that title?

Answer. Perhaps my book, despite all its shortcomings, will be useful. Humanity is moving to a new stage of development, and it faces new problems and challenges. Today, it doesn't matter where each of us lives, what language we speak, or what religion we belong to. We are all ultimately just people created by the Creator. We live on the same planet, and in this respect we all share a common destiny. If we care about our future, we must work together for a better life for all people living on our land, respect each other, and respect the basic human rights and values that unite us.

We, Muslims, believe in our great mission for the benefit of all mankind, to preserve peace on earth, to observe mutual respect and moral norms. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) once said: "Verily, I was sent to perfect a good disposition." 2

If my book draws people's attention to the first spaceflight performed by a representative of the Arab and entire Islamic world, a citizen of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, then it was useful. I hope that it will inspire future generations in their pursuit of excellence, help them look more confidently into the future, and overcome the challenges that it holds for them.

Translated by A. V. DENISOV, PhD in Philosophy

1 Electronic version of the book

2 See Imam Al-Bukhari Al-Adab Al-Mufrad. Hadiths of the Prophet on decent behavior. Moscow, 2009, p. 106.


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