Saudi Astronaut Sultan B

Saudi astronaut Sultan b. Salman b. Abdul-Aziz, the first Arab Muslim in space, said that the accident in which the shuttle Columbia was destroyed was regrettable, as is any incident in which human life is lost. He expressed confidence that NASA’s safety procedures are impeccable, and he did not think that is where the blame lay. Asked if the accident would deter him from ever going up again, he said “no.” He said he believed in God and pointed out that people don’t stop driving because there are auto accidents.

Sultan b. Salman’s expression of grief over the loss of any bashar or human being was a great universalist sentiment.

The Columbia crew included an Israeli, former figher pilot Ilan Ramon, as well as an Indian-born astronaut, Kalpana Chawla. Indian External Affairs minister Yashwant Sinha expressed deep shock and grief at the tragic loss of lives.

Space travel is far more multicultural now than it was in the days of Gus Grissom. But it still isn’t safer. The miracle is that we have lost as few astronauts as we have. The Arabic for astronaut is probably more accurate than the English word, which literally means star-traveller. In contrast, Ra’id al-Fada’ literally means trailblazer in space; it gives the sense of someone trekking into an unknown frontier, and doing something dangerous.

Those brave souls on Columbia were trailblazers for us all:

STS-107 Flight: January 16-February 1, 2003

Crew:

Commander Rick D. Husband (second flight),

Pilot William C. McCool (first flight),

Payload Specialist Michael P. Anderson (second flight),

Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla (second flight),

Mission Specialist David M. Brown (first flight),

Mission Specialist Laurel B. Clark (first flight),

Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Israel (first flight)

Since it is dangerous for a species to exist only on one planet, they were engaged in an endeavor that might help assure the longevity of humanity. They were brave human beings.