Middle East, Arab, Space, Earth, Night
The Middle East from Space Source: Wordpress/adonis49

If studying and exploring space is key to knowing the secrets of the universe, then the Arab world is only two steps ahead from the start line.

We've seen Egypt's only candidate Akram Amin Abdellatif train to take part of a NASA program back in 2015, and the UAE's ambitious plan to build a city on Mars by 2117... 

But despite all the efforts, only two Arabs have successfully gone to outer space.

Meet the Arab space travelers who have made the whole region proud.

Saudi Arabian Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud

Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia, Astronaut, Gulf, Space
Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Source: Daily Mail

At the mere age of 28, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became the first Arab, Muslim, and member of the Saudi royal family to visit outer space in 1985. 

While the Middle East was in the midst of a hostile armed conflict between Iraq and Iran, Al Saud, second son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, became a hero for the Arab world. 

"I found myself on the back of notebooks, thermoses, lunch boxes and pencils. Everywhere," he once told The National. 

The seven-day mission took off from the American Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 in an operation to deploy a satellite for the Arab Satellite Communications Organisation. 

Up until this day, it continues to represent a significant achievement for the kingdom and region. 

Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia, Royal, Space, Astronaut, First, Arab
Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery Source: America Space

"You realise how small you are, how we are just a speck in the universe," he described the feeling to The National. 

Following his journey, Al Saud co-founded the Association of Space Explorers, served in the Royal Saudi Air Force, and held the rank of colonel. 

He is also the first to ever "observe Islamic prayers and read the Quran in zero gravity."

Syrian Muhammed Faris

Muhammed Faris, Syria, Astronaut, Space, Arab
Muhammed Faris Source: Middle East Eye

Just two years after becoming a qualified fighter pilot, Muhammed Faris was chosen out of 60 Syrian candidates to complete a joint mission with the Soviets.

Similar to Al Saud, Faris became another champion of the Arab world, as roads, schools, and an airport were named after him in Syria. 

His journey to the stars in 1987 greatly altered how he perceived the world. 

"When you have seen the whole world through your window there is no us and them, no politics," Faris once told The Guardian.

Instead of continuing to serve in the military, he intended to enter into academia to teach students about science and astronomy “to pass on this privileged view I had been given.” 

However, his dreams of establishing a national space science institute in Syria was dismissed by Syria's former President Hafez Al Assad.

So instead, he taught students at the air force college how to fly jet fighters.

Muhammed Faris, Astronaut, Space, Syria, Refugee
Muhammed Faris Source: Middle East Eye

His joining the armed opposition against Syria's new President, Bashar Al Assad, was met with deadly threats by supporters of the regime. 

As a previous military adviser and one of the highest-ranking defectors from the regime, Faris and his family ended up refugees in Turkey in 2012. 

"There were these pilots, some of whom I had trained myself, who were bombing our own people. It was unbearable and unacceptable," he told Middle East Eye.  

The former cosmonaut is an active member of the opposition group, Syrian National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, and is often consulted by the Turkish authorities regarding refugees' rights and the actions of the Syrian Air Force.  

Similar to the aspirations of many Syrian refugees today, Faris wishes to "sit in my country with my garden and see children play outside without the fear of bombs."