Did you know that there has only been a handful of Muslim astronauts who've been sent to space? Though their names may not be as well-known as Armstrong or Aldrin, they mark a major step forward for Muslim space travel and scholarship and we ought to remember their names and determination to succeed.
Here they are in chronological order:
P.S. Space tourism is becoming more of a possibility day by day - find out all about it here!
Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
On June 17 1985, Sultan Salman Al Saud became the 1st Muslim, 1st Arab, 1st Saudi, and 1st member of a royal family to venture into space. Flying with the NASA-led STS-51-G mission, he was a payload specialist and represented the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (ARABSAT) in launching its satellite ARABSAT-1B.
Muhammed Ahmed Faris
Just 2 years after Sultan Salman Al Saud's flight into space, Muhammed Faris became the 1st (and as of today, the only) Syrian to fly into space on 22 July 1987. Participating in the Soviet Union's Interkosmos program as a research cosmonaut, he was onboard the Soyuz TM-3 aircraft as it visited the Soviet space station Mir.Musa Khiramanovich Manarov
Several months after Muhammed Faris' spaceflight, Musa Manarov would become the 1st Azerbaijani in space, and the 1st member of this list to participate in 2 separate expeditions to space! His first flight lasted from 21 December 1987 to 21 December 1988 as a space engineer on the Soviet Soyuz TM-4, and his second flight lasted from 2 December 1990 to 21 May 1991 on Soyuz TM-11.
The 2nd flight held the record for the longest continuous time spent in space at that time (at 175 days), and he has spent a total of 541 days in space, and performed 20 hours of spacewalks!
Abdul Ahad Mohmand
In between Musa Manarov's 2 space flights, another Muslim set the record of being the 1st Afghan in space. Abdul Ahad Mohmand trained with the Soviet Union, and made his voyage into space on 29 August 1988 with the Soyuz TM-6 spacecraft. The mission took place during the Soviet-Afghan war, and his inclusion in the crew was a monumental symbol during a time where Soviet occupation in Afghanistan was at its highest.
Toktar Ongarbayuly Aubakirov
Credit: SPACEFACTSOn 2 October 1991, Toktar Aubakirov became the 5th
Muslim and 1st Kazakh in space. Born in what is now Kazakhstan, Aubakirov trained under the Soviets as a cosmonaut before flying with the Soyuz TM-13 spacecraft. The mission took place shortly before Kazakhstan's independence, and Aubakirov's inclusion was intended to persuade Kazakhstan to continue launches from a spaceport in their territory.Talgat Amangeldyuly Musabayev
Amazingly, our next astronaut on this list is the 2nd Kazakh in space, and the
1st to have flown 3 separate expeditions! Talgat Musabayev's first venture into space was on 4 November 1994 on the Soyuz TM-19. His next two would take place on 25 August 1998 on the Soyuz TM-27, and then on 6 May 2001 aboard the Soyuz TM-32 (the latter of which was his shortest flight lasting just 7 days). He spent a total of 341 days in space! Musabayev was the flight engineer on his 1st flight, and Commander of the mission on the next two.
Salizhan Shakirovich Sharipov
Credit: SPACEFACTSSalizhan Sharipov is the 1st on this list to have flown separate missions with the U.S.A. and Russia, and is also the 1st cosmonaut from modern-day Kyrgyzstan (though he is ethnically Uzbek). His first flight on 22 January
1998 was with the U.S.-led STS-89 mission onboard the space shuttleEndeavour
. His second flight was on 14 October 2004 onboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-5 spacecraft. He has conducted 2 spacewalks with a total of 10 hours and 34 minutes
Our first (and for now only!) muslimah on this list is the American-Iranian Anousheh Ansari. Ansari flew into space on 18 September 2006 with the Soyuz TMA-9
spacecraft as the 1st female space tourist, not long after her 40th birthday. During her time in space she even published a weblog of her experiments!
Dato' Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor Al Masrie bin Sheikh Mustapha
Credit: SPACEFACTSCloser to home, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor was the 1st Malaysian Malay to venture into space on 10 October 2007 onboard the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft. His expedition was under a joint agreement between Russia and Malaysia's Angkasawan program, the latter of which he was selected for after a series of rigorous tests. During his expedition he carried out several experiments related to scientific and medical research, some of which were intended to benefit Malaysian industries.
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor's mission is also notable because it coincided with Ramadan, resulting in the first-ever guidebook for
Muslims in space. The guidebook is a 7-page word document that includes advisories on how to locate the qiblat from space, how to pray in low-gravity, and how to fast. He even celebrated Eid during the mission, and handed out satay and kuih to his fellow crew.Aidyn Akanovich Aimbetov
Aidyn Aimbetov is the
3rd Kazakh in space. His mission took off on 2 September 2015 onboard the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft. Though he was originally intended to only fly in 2017, he was given the opportunity to join the 2015 flight after a participant pulled out resulting in an empty seat needing to be urgently filled.
Hazzaa Ali Almansoori
Hazzaa Ali Almansoori is the first astronaut of the United Arab Emirates and the 11th Muslim (so far) to have travelled to space. A former military pilot, he was selected for the UAE's new human spaceflight program in 2018, and he launched on his first mission to the International Space Station on Sept. 25, 2019.
Looking at these 11 Muslims who have gone to extraordinary means to expand our understandings of science and the universe, we hope this has inspired you to maybe consider space travel as one of your
bucket list items in the future 🚀
Not quite up for travelling to space? Then check out these other adventures instead: