Middle East’s love affair with the moon and space

Updated 26 September 2019

Middle East’s love affair with the moon and space

  • The UAE and Saudi Arabia are inaugurating a new era of Arab space exploration
  • Saudi Prince Sultan entered the history books when he journeyed into space on Discovery in 1985

RIYADH: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before schools were due to start after summer vacation. 

Fifty years ago today, Saudis joined the world in gathering around TV sets to watch a live broadcast of what was once thought impossible: American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took man’s first steps on the moon. 

Armstrong famously said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” True to his words, advancement in space has skyrocketed since the Apollo 11 mission, opening up doors for space scientists to reach for the stars.

It was only 16 years later that Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman became the first Arab, Muslim — and royal — astronaut to travel into space. Before traveling to Houston for the Apollo mission anniversary, he sat down with Arab News in an exclusive interview to talk about his NASA mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in June 1985.

Prince Sultan, recently appointed chairman of the Saudi Space Commission, was only 13 when he watched the historic moon landing on TV. The picture quality might have been poor and the sound garbled, but footage of the landing captured his imagination.

“Humans made airplanes and made advances in industry, but for humans to leave their own planet, that’s really something else,” Prince Sultan told Arab News. 

Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old. “It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

It has been more than 30 years since space last had an Arab visitor (Syria’s Muhammed Faris became the second Arab in space on board USSR’s Soyuz spacecraft in 1987). But this September, the first Emirati will become the latest Arab visitor when he joins a team of astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS).

Hazza Al-Mansoori will travel to space on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft that is due to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25.

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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Saudi FM says Israeli passport holders cannot visit kingdom

Updated 28 min 52 sec ago

Saudi FM says Israeli passport holders cannot visit kingdom

  • Said Israel policy unchanged
  • Israel on Sunday said that its citizens could now travel to Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia confirmed on Monday that Israeli passport holders were not permitted to enter the Kingdom.

Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said the policy was unchanged despite Israel saying on Sunday that its citizens could now travel to Saudi Arabia.

“Our policy is fixed,” Prince Faisal told CNN. “We do not have relations with the state of Israel, and Israeli passport holders cannot visit the Kingdom at the current time.

“When a peace agreement is reached between the Palestinians and the Israelis, I believe the issue of Israel’s involvement in the region will be on the table.”

Analysts said the statements by both countries were significant as US President Donald Trump prepared to unveil his Middle East peace plan in Washington.

“Israel wanted to fool the Arabs, and to put Saudi Arabia in a difficult position, saying they had resolved the issue with the Kingdom and were ready for peace,” the Saudi political analyst Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News.

“But the Kingdom is saying, ‘No, you cannot visit until there is a solution,’ and we will find out tomorrow if the Trump peace plan is that solution.”

The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, calling for normal Arab relations with Israel in return for its withdrawal from occupied land, was the benchmark, Al-Shehri said.

“If they are going to override the Arab Peace Initiative without a workable alternative, then of course the Kingdom will not establish diplomatic relations.”