By: Sherief Ahmed We don’t hear much about Muslim scientists in the field of space and astronomy, but there have been many amazing contributions. In recent years, we would rarely think about Muslims when speaking about space. Usually NASA and Russia are at the forefront of any conversation regarding space, but now we have reason to speak about Muslims and space again.

President Obama recently asked NASA to work with Muslim scientists to honor their contributions throughout history with astronomy. Many of the early historical contributions to astronomy were mathematically based and have contributed to calculations that have furthered the understanding of our solar system. Mathematicians like Muhammad Ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi who changed the course of Islamic astronomy by writing a book in 820 called the “Astronomical Tables of Sind and Hind.” The work contains tables for the movements of the sun, the moon and the five planets known at the time. Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sufi, who discovered the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Andromeda Galaxy, which were the first galaxies to be observed other than the Milky Way. There are many other contributions to math and science that were easily translated to Astronomy, which now is converted to technological contributions to space.

In recent history, Farouk El-Baz, an Egyptian American scientist who worked with NASA, planned the scientific exploration of the moon including the selection of landing sites for the Apollo missions. After Apollo, NASA selected him as Principal Investigator of the Earth Observations and Photography Experiment on the first joint American-Soviet mission. Another important scientist, Kerim Kerimov, an aerospace engineer and renowned rocket scientist, was one of the founders of the Soviet space industry. He was the central figure for many years in the Soviet space program. Kerimov led architects behind the string of Soviet success that stunned the world from the first satellite to the first fully automated space docking. There have been many other contributions even the first self funded woman to go to international space station, Anousheh Ansari. Even though, Muslims have contributed to various initiatives, there hasn’t been a Muslim country that developed any real space programs, but that maybe changing.

Satellites are used on a daily basis and we don’t even realize it. The amount of work and technology that goes into making everything work, it’s so difficult that only 10 countries have launched their own satellites. There are a few Muslim countries that have satellites, but they received assistance in the launches. For the first time ever, the United Arab Emirates, specifically, Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s strategic investment and development arm, is planning on launching its own set of satellites from French Guiana this year.

This is great news for multiple reasons: first it is the first satellite from the Muslim world, and more importantly, the services it will provide the MENA and Asian services efficiently. Yahsat 1a, the first of two satellites, will be launched from the Al Yah Satellite Communications Company and will provide a variety of services including: Internet services, business data networks, and television transmission services (particularly high definition). This satellite will serve 20 countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It will also offer communications for the defense sectors of those nations. The second satellite will provide more government purposes.

There are so many brilliant minds in the Muslim world and our technical fields will keep developing. The discoveries being made, the hard work and research are all on upward trends. It will be exciting to see how Muslim majority countries develop technically in the years to come and moreover, the great minds that will emerge from this region.

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