Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Chairman of the General Authority for Tourism and Antiquities and the first Arab astronaut, has made no secret of his ambition to send another Saudi citizen into space. He revealed that a semi-agreement was in place to this effect with President Reagan and the United States 27 years ago, at the time of his own space expedition. However, six months after this agreement had been concluded, the “Challenger” space shuttle disaster took place and all space flights were ceased for the next three years. Following these circumstances, all plans changed.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat on the side-lines of the Saudi International Conference on Aviation and Space Technology, Prince Sultan bin Salman revealed that while all space missions and flights have been organized and reserved for the period of the next 10 years, he confirmed that Saudi opportunities are getting closer in this regard. At the same time, he called upon the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology [KACST] to work hard to produce more Saudi space scientists in the near future.
For his part, Prince Turki Bin Saud Bin Mohammed, KACST Vice President for Research Institutes, announced his support for Prince Sultan bin Salman’s vision and stressed that work is underway with the Ministry of Education to develop a specialized program to allow Saudi students to conduct research programs on-board the US space station. He added that Saudi youth will soon be qualified in the field of space travel and will be able to participate in this vital area, just as Saudi Arabia will be able to participate in space flights with its own scientific program.
Prince Turki Bin Saud also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that KACST intends to launch two domestically-produced satellites into space in 2013 and 2015. The Space Research Institute at KACST has already launched 12 satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhastan for communication and other purposes in collaboration with NASA.
He revealed that the SAUDISAT4 and SAUDI GEO1 satellites will be equipped with highly sensitive devices and cameras which will conduct various scientific experiments. Prince Turki said “it aims to make Saudi Arabia a leading supplier of earth monitoring products from space, interactive maps and strengthen satellite capabilities.”
Prince Sultan bin Salman, a member of the Association of Space Explorers informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “Saudi Arabia today has the most sophisticated communications systems in our region, which is one of the largest communications technology markets, and this ambitious state has spared no effort to provide everything in order to further scientific research and promote scientists, so that they can reach the highest ranks to serve the esteemed mission of the Kingdom. Today we can see that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is pushing this country towards new horizons in the field of science and technology in all its forms, including space technology”.
He added “There are more than 135 Saudi students studying science and technology subjects in various countries across the world. This is in addition to the 25 government universities and 9 private institutions within Saudi Arabia itself, which have been allocated more than 25 percent of the state budget to bring about a quantum leap in education at all levels, and to enable them to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century”.
Prince Sultan bin Salman also asserted that “while I am touching upon the achievements of the Kingdom in the field of space technology, I must point out that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is a great believer in openness to science and other cultures, and there is much evidence of this. I allude to this in the introduction of my book, “One Planet”, which was released yesterday with the support and appreciation of the Saudi Research and Marketing group. This book tells the full story of my space flight, the Kingdom’s participation in this, and secrets people did not know before”.
For his part, KACST President Dr. Mohammed al-Suwail confirmed that the city holding the Saudi International Conference on Aviation and Space Technology demonstrates Saudi Arabia’s commitment to space technology and strengthens the role of the Kingdom in that regard. He revealed that the conference allocated a session purely to highlight the efforts of the Kingdom, the city and its various space technology programs. KACST harnessed all of its potential to secure the success of this conference and even broadcasted it online.
A number of astronauts, scientists and experts in the field from various countries around the world attended the Saudi International Conference on Aviation and Space Technology. The aim was to gather together their expertise, discuss the latest developments and research in the field of space technology and aviation, and provide an opportunity for a unique gathering of astronauts, researchers, scientists and policy makers, as part of the 25th Planetary Congress of the Association of Space Explorers.