Celebrating Islamic Contributions to Space Exploration

Astronomy and observing the night sky has been an integral part of society for several centuries, some older than when Western philosophies became the standard reference base. Our goal in our “Culture and Space” series is to introduce our audiences to ways space science is celebrated across all communities. We want to recognize the diverse and global impact people have made in the field of space exploration.

We have presented fun facts that celebrate the great heritage of Arabian astronomy and celebrate personalities recognized amongst the space community. We invite you to celebrate these facts and share it with others. It’s known to be a great ice-breaker topic for sure!

Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/ASU
Image Credit: WikiCommons

Ibn Battuta

Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Battutah was a 14th century geographer, explorer, and scholar who was originally from Morocco. He travelled throughout Africa and Eurasia covering over 100,000 km. Towards the end of his life he recounted his travels and documented it in “The Rihla”.

Did you know, there is a small impact crater on the Moon named after Ibn Battuta!? This 11 km wide crater is located on Mare Fecunditatis, a volcanic area visible on the lunar nearside. The crater itself is circular and typical in crater shape. The floor is wide and the inner walls of the crater are sloped. There is another small crater on the floor in the western half.

If the night is clear, and you have a Galileoscope or telescope, point it to this crater and find it! This crater is located southwest of the Lindbergh crater, and northeast of Goclenius. Official location coordinates are 6.9oS, 50.4oE.

Image Credit: Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary
Image Credit: Artist Image, MBRSC

Sarah Al Amiri

Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri is the Minister of State for Advanced Technology in the United Arab Emirates government. She is also the chair of the UAE Space Agency amongst other distinguished positions. She gained worldwide recognition in 2018 as the Deputy Project Manager of the Emirates Mars Mission.

She has a background in computer science and a Master’s degree. She was recognized as one of 50 Young Scientists by World Economic Forum. She has also been named as one of Time Magazine’s next top 100 influential people in 2021.

The Emirates Mars Mission, commonly known as the Al-Amal (Hope) Mission is a collaborative initiative between the UAE Space Agency, University of Colorado Boulder, University of California-Berkeley, and Arizona State University.

The orbiter mission launched in July 2020 from Japan and reached Mars in February 2021 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates. The main focus is to study the past and current Martian atmosphere. Hear Sarah talk about the Hope Mission in this 2017 TEDxDubai event.

Image Credit: NASA
Mission Patch Image Credit: NASA MSFC

Sultan Bin Salman Al Saud

Meet the first Arab in space! Sultan Bin Salman Al Saud became the first member of royalty, the first Arab, and first Muslim to fly into space in 1985. He flew at the age of 28, making him the youngest astronaut on the crew. He flew as a payload specialist on STS-51G Discovery. As part of his mission, he deployed a satellite ARABSAT-1B to provide communications to the Arabian peninsula. After his space adventure, he later established the Association of Space Explorers that connects all astronauts who have been in space.

The STS-51G mission launched from Florida and was in orbit for 7 days. It carried several communication satellites and astronomy experiments that astronauts deployed. A common feature connecting space missions is the mission patch, an emblem, that everyone involved on the team gets to wear. A patch generally has the crewmembers last names, a mission number, and an image that is representative of the mission. The STS 51-G patch captures advances in aviation technology during the 20th century and the crewmembers names.

Saturn's Moon Enceladus

In 2008, the Cassini mission visited Saturn’s moon Enceladus, a 500 km diameter satellite and sixth largest moon to orbit the giant Saturn. Images revealed wonders of an icy world with evidence that liquid water might warm ocean currents beneath the thick crust. There are areas where icy particles, water vapor and basic organic materials spew out like jets along “tiger stripe” fractures or sulci.

Did you know, features on Enceladus are named for characters and places from “The Arabian Nights”. Anbar Fossae is named after Anbar, Iraq! Baghdad and Cairo Sulci are located at the moon’s south pole which releases heat and icy particles. Aladdin crater, a 34 km wide impact feature, is located in the northern hemisphere. The crater interior has a dome which scientists hypothesize is a result ice and water actively interacting. Another crater, Julnar, is named after a woman in the Arabian Nights.

The Cassini-Huygens mission was a cooperative initiative between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency and lasted 13 years, 10 years longer than originally planned for!

Image Credit: NASA
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS


The Magellan mission visited our nearest neighbor Venus between 1990-1994. With a radar instrument onboard, the spacecraft imaged more than 98% of the planet at 100m/pixel resolution.

Did you know: features on Venus are named predominantly after goddesses and historical or mythological women!
Impact craters, for example, are named after famous women if the features are over 20 km in width.

Smaller features are given common female names. These names are decided by committees within the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Here’s a summary of some Arabian crater names we have come across!

Aisha; Al-Taymuriyya after Egyptian author Ayesha Al-Taymuriyya, Alima, Andami after Iranian physician and researcher Azar Andami, Farida, Fatima, Firuza, Gulchatay, Gulnara, Jamila, Khafiza, Leila, Saida, Umaima, Zakiya, and Zeinab. 

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