In 1985, after completing his space mission, Prince Sultan bin Salman visited Boston as part of his world tour. For me and my friends who were studying at Harvard, it was a memorable and historic day to meet the first Arab astronaut at the city’s Museum of Science. Back then, the Arab world needed communications through a satellite to cover all Arab countries. The idea of the Arab world’s first communications satellite resulted from the efforts of the Arab Telecommunication Union and the Arab Organization for Education, which are under the Arab League’s auspices. The Arab League agreed to set up an institution for satellite communications based in Riyadh.
Almost three decades later, with the country’s vision to enhance the quality of life by creating better environments, while actively enabling the prospects of lucrative economic and monetary inventions to serve humanity, the Saudi Space Commission was set up in December 2018, chaired by Communications and Information Technology Minister Abdullah Alswaha.
The primary roles of the commission include devising plans and policies for the national space sector, implementing national space strategy, promoting research and industrial activities in the field of space, developing technology for the launch of space vehicles and infrastructure, regulating all activities related to space missions and exploration, and working with government agencies and related parties in pursuit of common goals.
Last week, another historic space mission kicked off from Houston in the US. Two young Saudi astronauts, Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, launched to the International Space Station aboard Axiom Mission 2, a four-person private mission operated by Axiom Space. Barnawi, a biomedical science researcher, made history by becoming the first Arab woman to go into space. As for Alqarni, he is a fighter jet pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force. They are part of a 10-day mission along with two other astronauts.
Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi have inspired my four children and millions of other youngsters in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world.
As part of their mission, the astronauts have begun conducting experiments in various nanomaterial therapeutic applications, such as drug delivery, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. They have also performed a test run of the DreamUp Nanoracks Space Kite payload, which will demonstrate the aerodynamic behavior of kites in microgravity. Furthermore, in collaboration with the Saudi Space Commission and Nanoracks, the mission will fly three experiments in microgravity to educate students. Alqarni and Barnawi have also delivered talks as part of an effort to engage students nationwide.
Prince Sultan inspired me and millions of my generation in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world. Years later, he accepted our invitation to be guest of honor at the BMG Polo Cup, in the presence of the late Queen Elizabeth and the now-King Charles. He is the only astronaut we have had as a guest of honor throughout our 25-year history. Now, Alqarni and Barnawi have inspired my four children and millions of other youngsters in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world. From Prince Sultan to Alqarni and Barnawi, Saudi Arabia has continued its decades of space leadership.
• Basil M.K. Al-Ghalayini is the chairman and CEO of BMG Financial Group.