The Arab Conquest of Space

Episode 431

hosted by Taylan Güngör

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When Sultan bin Salman left Earth on the shuttle Discovery in 1985, he became the first Arab, first Muslim, and first member of a royal family in space. Twenty-five years later, the discovery of a planet 500 light years away by the Qatar Exoplanet Survey – subsequently named ‘Qatar-1b’ – was evidence of the cutting-edge space science projects taking place across the Middle East. Discussing his recent book, Space Science and the Arab World, Jörg Matthias Determann shows that the conquest of space became associated with national prestige, security, economic growth, and the idea of an ‘Arab renaissance’ more generally. Equally important to this success were international collaborations: to benefit from American and Soviet expertise and technology, Arab scientists and officials had to commit to global governance of space and the common interests of humanity.

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Contributor Bios

Jörg Matthias Determann is Associate Professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. He also serves as Associate Editor for the Arabian Peninsula of the Review of Middle East Studies (Cambridge University Press). He is the author of Space Science and the Arab World: Astronauts, Observatories and Nationalism in the Middle East (London: I.B.Tauris, 2018).
Taylan Güngör is a doctoral candidate at SOAS in London. His interests are in Medieval and Pre-Modern Eastern Mediterranean trading circles and his research is on trade in Istanbul after 1453. Taylan records and edits podcasts in London at the SOAS Radio studio.


Episode No. 431
Release Date: 25 October 2019
Recording Location: SOAS Radio, London, UK
Audio editing by Taylan Gūngör
Music: Rampi Rampi by Turku, Nomads of the Silk Road
Images and bibliography courtesy of Jörg Matthias Determann


Farouk El-Baz at Mission Control, Houston, Texas, 1969 (courtesy of Farouk El-Baz)
Artist’s impression of the planet Qatar-1b, discovered in 2010 (credit: David Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, Dubai, 2016 (courtesy of Jörg Matthias Determann)

Select Bibliography

Al Saud, Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Ahmed N. Abo-khatwa, and Tarek A. Fadaak. One Planet: The Story of the First Arab Mission to Space. Riyadh: Saudi Specialized Publishing Company, 2011.

Chad, Sheldon. “The Forgotten Apogee of Lebanese Rocketry.” Saudi Aramco World 64, no. 3 (2013): 18–23.

Crozet, Pascal. Les sciences modernes en Égypte: transfert et appropriation, 1805 - 1902. Paris: Geuthner, 2008.

Determann, Jörg Matthias. Space Science and the Arab World: Astronauts, Observatories and Nationalism in the Middle East. London: I.B.Tauris, 2018.

Lewis, Cathleen S. “Muslims in Space: Observing Religious Rites in a New Environment.” Astropolitics 11, no. 1–2 (2013): 108–15.

Morrison, Robert G. “Islamic Astronomy.” In The Cambridge History of Science, edited by David C. Lindberg and Michael H. Shank, 2:109–38. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Pirard, Theo. “German Rockets in Africa: The Explosive Heritage of Peenemunde.” Acta Astronautica 40, no. 12 (1997): 885–98.

Saliba, George. “Copernican Astronomy in the Arab East: Theories of the Earth’s Motion in the Nineteenth Century.” In Transfer of Modern Science & Technology to the Muslim World, edited by Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, 145–55. İstanbul: Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, 1992.

Sirrs, Owen L. Nasser and the Missile Age in the Middle East. Abingdon: Routledge, 2006.

Stolz, Daniel A. The Lighthouse and the Observatory: Islam, Science, and Empire in Late Ottoman Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.


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