35 years ago, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space

35 years ago, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space
Prince Sultan bin Salman was the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 June 2020

35 years ago, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space

35 years ago, Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space
  • The astronaut blasted off on NASA’s Discovery space shuttle on June 17, 1985

LONDON: Thirty-five years ago today, at 2:33 p.m. Riyadh time on June 17, 1985, the space shuttle Discovery blasted off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
By then, four years and 17 successful missions since the launch in April 1981 of Columbia, the world’s first reusable orbital spacecraft, shuttle launches had become, if not exactly routine, then almost business as usual.

But there was nothing routine or usual about NASA Mission STS 51-G.

On board Discovery as it set off on its seven-day orbital mission were three commercial communication satellites, a trial tracking system for the proposed US Star Wars missile defense system, a series of astronomy and biomedical experiments — and a copy of the Qur’an.

Its owner was 28-year-old Prince Sultan bin Salman, who, strapped into seat seven as one of two payload specialists on the flight deck of Discovery, blasted into orbit and the history books at 28,968 kilometers per hour as the first Muslim, the first Arab and the first member of a royal family to fly into space.




Back home, Prince Sultan was greeted as a hero, appointed a major in the Royal Saudi Air Force and, as an unofficial ambassador, met many world leaders. (Flickr/NASA)

The choice of launch pad 39A for the mission had been a hugely symbolic one for the prince, who, as a 13-year-old boy in Riyadh, had watched the grainy television footage of the Apollo 11 lunar mission, which had taken off from the same site on July 16, 1969.

As Prince Sultan recalled in an interview with Arab News for the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing last year, the sight of astronaut Neil Armstrong taking his one small step made a lasting impression.

“Humans made airplanes and made advances in industry,” he said. “But for humans to leave their own planet … that was really something else,” he said.

At the time, the young prince entertained no thoughts of reaching for the stars himself. Even after he learnt to fly aircraft, gaining his private pilot’s license in 1977 while studying in the US, he “dismissed as impossible the idea that somebody from the Arab world” would ever venture into space.

Then, suddenly, the impossible became possible.

“When you see Earth from space you then begin to focus … that this is a gift from Allah, and that there is more to it than yourself and your small community, more to it than your own limited passions.”

Prince Sultan bin Salman

In 1976, Saudi Arabia had played a key role in the Arab League’s formation of Arabsat, a satellite communications company. Its first satellite, Arabsat-1A, was deployed from an Ariane 3 rocket launched from the French space center in Guiana in February 1985.

Arabsat’s second satellite, 1B, was due to follow four months later, and this time it would be carried aloft by NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery.

The members of the Arab League were invited to nominate a payload specialist and, after 10 weeks of intensive training, Prince Sultan made the transition from pilot to astronaut. Blasting off into the Florida sky, he was watched and applauded by more than 200 Arab guests of NASA.

Ahead were seven days, one hour, 38 minutes and 52 seconds he would never forget. After 111 complete orbits of the Earth, he was left with an abiding sense of wonder.

“When you see Earth from space, you then begin to focus … that this is a gift from Allah, and that there is more to it than yourself and your small community, more to it than your own limited passions,” he recalled.

“Your care and passion for things become more global, more universal.”

Even orbiting 387 km above Earth, traveling over 4.5 million km in seven days, there were reminders of home — a call from his father and King Fahd broadcast live on television; being awoken on day six by mission control playing “Abaad Kontom Wala Garayebein” (“Near or Far”), by the Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo; and, of course, reading the Qur’an in space.




Prince Sultan and Discovery touched down on runway 23 at Edwards Air Force Base in California at 6:11 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on June 24, 1985. (File/NASA)

“My father, when he called me on the space shuttle, said: ‘I learned today that you finished the Qur’an,’ and he was very happy about it,” the prince recalled last year.

To this day, as Arab News reported, “he holds this accomplishment dear to his heart, knowing that King Salman is proud of him for being the only person to read the Qur’an in space.”

Multiple missions accomplished, Prince Sultan and Discovery touched down on runway 23 at Edwards Air Force Base in California at 6:11 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on June 24, 1985.

Back home, he was greeted as a hero, appointed a major in the Royal Saudi Air Force and, as an unofficial ambassador, met many world leaders — and his childhood heroes, the crew of Apollo 11.

Mission STS 51-G had been carried out flawlessly. But if any reminder were necessary that space travel could never be regarded as routine, it came on Jan. 28, 1986, just seven months after Prince Sultan’s successful voyage into space.

At the start of the shuttle program’s 25th mission, Discovery’s sister ship, the Challenger, broke apart shortly after takeoff, killing all seven crew members, including Christa McAuliffe, who had been selected to be the first teacher in space.

When a Saudi went to space
Prince Sultan bin Salman speaks exclusively to Arab News about his 1985 NASA mission and how he became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space

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Prince Sultan’s next mission was earthbound, but equally dear to his heart. Fired by a belief that “our heritage and culture are not just important but are critical to our future,” in 2000 he was appointed secretary general of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage.

There, he began work to preserve the Kingdom’s treasures, overseeing the master plan that in 2008 would see the ancient rock-carved city of Hegra designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

By 2018 it had been joined on the list by four other national treasures.




A page from the Arab News archive showing the news on June 18, 1985.

However, Prince Sultan was not yet done with space. In December 2018, he was appointed chairman of the newly formed Saudi Space Commission (SSC).

On June 17, 1985, he took his own one small step, for himself, for his faith — and for the future of his country in space.

As chairman of the SSC, with its mission “to empower the generation of tomorrow to lead in the field of space science and its applications,” he continues to inspire the youth of Saudi Arabia to follow in his footsteps.


Arab coalition intercepts, destroys Houthi drones targeting Saudi Arabia’s Jazan, Khamis Mushait

Arab coalition intercepts, destroys Houthi drones targeting Saudi Arabia’s  Jazan, Khamis Mushait
Updated 06 March 2021

Arab coalition intercepts, destroys Houthi drones targeting Saudi Arabia’s Jazan, Khamis Mushait

Arab coalition intercepts, destroys Houthi drones targeting Saudi Arabia’s  Jazan, Khamis Mushait
  • Spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki said the coalition destroyed eight drones in the past 24 hours
  • The recent Houthi attacks received multiple condemnations from Arab countries

DUBAI: The Arab coalition on Saturday intercepted and destroyed two Houthi drones targeting Saudi Arabia’s Jazan and Khamis Mushait, state news agency SPA reported.
Spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki said the coalition destroyed eight drones in the past 24 hours.
He added that the Iranian-backed militia’s attempts to attack civilians in a deliberate and systematic manner constituted war crimes.
Al-Maliki said the coalition had put in place measures to protect civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law.
Earlier on Friday, the coalition intercepted and destroyed six Houthi drones targeting the southwestern Saudi city of Khamis Mushayt.
The recent Houthi attacks received multiple condemnations from countries including the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain and Jordan where they stated their full support for the Kingdom in its fight against the militia.
Kuwait’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also said that the continuation of these crimes confirms the militia’s dangerous escalations and its intent to harm the security of Saudi Arabia and undermine the stability of the region.


Ministry campaign checks COVID-19 measures in Riyadh mosques

Ministry campaign checks COVID-19 measures in Riyadh mosques
Updated 06 March 2021

Ministry campaign checks COVID-19 measures in Riyadh mosques

Ministry campaign checks COVID-19 measures in Riyadh mosques

RIYADH: The Riyadh branch of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance on Friday organized an awareness and monitoring campaign to ensure mosques were implementing COVID-19 precautionary and preventive measures, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The campaign was carried out in cooperation with the General Directorate of Health Affairs in Riyadh and a number of volunteer associations.
Healthcare volunteers and mosque supervisors took part in the campaign. Participants told worshippers to comply with social distancing measures, use their own prayer mats, and wear a face mask at all times.
They also organized the entry and exit of worshippers, in addition to distributing masks and prayer mats among them.
The director general of the ministry’s branch in Riyadh, Ahmed Al-Fares, said the campaign aimed to help raise awareness about COVID-19 prevention methods.
He added that the campaign was in line with the efforts of various state agencies to fight the pandemic and also promote a culture of volunteering among government bodies.

The Kingdom vs. COVID-19
How Saudi Arabia acted swiftly and coordinated a global response to fight the coronavirus, preventing a far worse crisis at home and around the world
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Saudis behind ‘The Journey’ anime trained in Japan

Saudis behind ‘The Journey’ anime trained in Japan
‘The Journey’ tells a historical story from the Arabian Peninsula where a potter with a mysterious past, Aws, takes part in an epic battle to defend his city. (Supplied)
Updated 06 March 2021

Saudis behind ‘The Journey’ anime trained in Japan

Saudis behind ‘The Journey’ anime trained in Japan
  • The film’s promotional video has already received support from Saudi entertainment officials, ministries and young people

JEDDAH: The 300 young Saudis who went to Japan to receive training in the art of manga will be able to see their new anime film on the cinematic big screen this summer.
The term manga is used in Japan to refer to both comics and cartooning, as the famous art form has been gaining popularity in the Kingdom for years.
That is why the Manga Productions Company recruited hundreds of young Saudis to come to the Toei Animation Studios to work on the first Saudi-Japanese anime film “The Journey.”
The company’s CEO Essam Bukhary, who is also the executive producer for the film, described the project as “the result of Saudi creative content production in cooperation with high-level international partners.”
Directed by the renowned Shizuno Kobun, the anime film took two-and-a-half years to make as the Saudi and Japanese staff succeeded in creating a blend of each country’s culture.
“Those young men and women worked along with the Japanese team on all the phases of the work, starting from writing the story, designing the characters, backgrounds, storyboard, editing, reviewing and others,” Bukhary told the YaHala TV show on Rotana Khalijia.
He said “The Journey” tells a historical story from the Arabian Peninsula where a potter with a mysterious past, Aws, takes part in an epic battle to defend his city.
Bukhary said the film will be displayed in both Arabic and Japanese.

HIGHLIGHT

Directed by the renowned Shizuno Kobun, the anime film took two-and-a-half years to make as the Saudi and Japanese staff succeeded in creating a blend of each country’s culture.

The film’s promotional video has already received support from Saudi entertainment officials, ministries and young people.
Saudi Royal Court adviser Turki Al-Sheikh, who is also the General Entertainment Authority chairman, tweeted: “I am ready to help with anything I can do.”
In another tweet, the Saudi Media Ministry posted: “The Journey, which will be displayed in the Middle East and North Africa this summer, represents a big cinematic step based on the Saudi Arabian heritage.”
The Japanese Embassy in Riyadh is excited for the film’s debut this summer and also praised both countries for their cooperation on the project.
Khaled Ibrahim, a Saudi digital illustrator, said the Kingdom is full of talented young men and women who just need studios where they can make similar animations and cartoons.
“The work that Manga Production has done, in collaboration with the famous Japanese Toei Animation, is a source of pride to us all,” he told Arab News.
Ibrahim said he was thrilled to hear that the company insisted on giving Saudis the chance to take part in courses on animation making.
“This could become the cornerstone for a new local industry,” he said.


Who’s Who: Muhammad Ali Albakri, IATA senior vice president for customer, financial and digital services

Who’s Who: Muhammad Ali Albakri, IATA senior vice president for customer, financial and digital services
Updated 06 March 2021

Who’s Who: Muhammad Ali Albakri, IATA senior vice president for customer, financial and digital services

Who’s Who: Muhammad Ali Albakri, IATA senior vice president for customer, financial and digital services

Muhammad Ali Albakri has been appointed senior vice president for customer, financial and digital services at the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Since January 2017, Albakri held the role of regional vice president for the Africa and Middle East region.

Succeeding Aleks Popovich, Albakri is now responsible for IATA’s financial settlement products and services. He will be expected to process more than $450 billion of industry every year.
His responsibilities also include strengthening IATA’s client and customer activities, along with the company’s digital transformation initiatives for the benefit of the aviation industry.
IATA’s Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said Popovich left behind a great team with a clear focus on customer service that will continue to drive critical changes under Albakri’s capable leadership.
The company’s website described Albakri as “an agent of change,” who will transform the MENA team to better serve member needs and pioneer the work of IATA’s digital transformation advisory council.
“Albakri is well prepared to guide the development of IATA’s commercial offerings, settlement services and digital leadership,” de Juniac said in a statement. “In normal times, these are critical functions, even more so in the middle of an industry crisis.”
Albakri previously worked for Saudia, the Kingdom’s national flag carrier, and served as its vice president of information technology. From 2009 to 2016, he was in charge of strengthening the company’s technology infrastructure and modernizing its financial practices. Albakri earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in information sciences from the University of Pittsburgh.


Cinemas, gyms and restaurants to reopen in Saudi Arabia

Cinemas, gyms and restaurants to reopen in Saudi Arabia
Updated 06 March 2021

Cinemas, gyms and restaurants to reopen in Saudi Arabia

Cinemas, gyms and restaurants to reopen in Saudi Arabia
  • All events and parties will continue to be suspended until further notice
  • Social gatherings remain restricted to a maximum of 20 people

RIYADH: Cinemas, gyms and sports centers will be allowed to reopen in Saudi Arabia from Sunday.
Indoor dining can also resume in restaurants and cafes along with other recreational activities, the interior ministry said on Friday.
However, all events and parties will continue to be suspended until further notice. This includes weddings, corporate meetings, events in banquet halls and social events.
Social gatherings remain restricted to a maximum of 20 people.
The Kingdom suspended recreational events on Feb. 3 to halt the spread of COVID-19. The suspension was extended on Feb. 14 for 20 days.
The ministry urged people to adhere to measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and said there would be an increase in spot checks to ensure everyone followed the rules.

The Kingdom vs. COVID-19
How Saudi Arabia acted swiftly and coordinated a global response to fight the coronavirus, preventing a far worse crisis at home and around the world
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