First Arab astronaut Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman said that he had observed Ramadan fast and offered prayers in space, while onboard the American Space Shuttle Discovery as a payload specialist.
He spent seven days in space as one of the seven-member international crew, that included American and French astronauts.
Recording his experience in a book 35-years later, Prince Sultan said the shuttle was launched on June 17, 1985, which was also the 29th day of Ramadan. Though the late Mufti of the Kingdom Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Baz in a fatwa had exempted him from fasting during his space journey, he went ahead to experience the fast in an unchartered territory.
Regarding the fasting on the first day on the Discovery trip, which was swimming in space at an altitude of 387 kilometers (241 miles) above the surface of the earth, Prince Sultan said he felt tired, just because of lack of sleep. Under zero-gravity conditions, it is difficult to get a normal full sleep.
Observing the Florida calendar, he said that, though he felt drought and loss of fluid, he completed the day and broke fast with Chinese sweet and sour chicken.
Like other astronauts, he was supposed to have three meals a day taking steamed sweet corn, cauliflower with cheese, tuna, shrimp, salmon, meat, pasta, fruit salad, orange and pineapple juice, tea and decaffeinated coffee.
But the actual challenge was to offer prayers in the shuttle. “You had to fix your feet inside a special fastener to stand firm inside the shuttle, because of zero gravity,” he wrote in his book titled Seven Days in Space.
In zero gravity conditions, a person floats in the space, and it is difficult to put feet on the ground.
“The prostration (sujood) was impossible, only a partial one was possible. Also, at this ambiance, prostration causes dizziness,” he added.
Reciting Quran in space
“Allah gave me the blessing to recite the whole Quran in five days. After performing my daily tasks including scientific experimentation, photography, and follow-up of the launch of Arabsat, I dedicated a considerable part of my free time to recitation,” said the Prince Sultan, son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz.
Expressing happiness for being the first Muslim and Arab astronaut, the Saudi prince said the crew who should have been sleeping, decided to stay with him at the time of breaking the fast.
“I invoked Allah to bestow success on us all in this challenging mission so that we honor the confidence of everyone who trusted us. The dawn prayer made me comfortable and optimistic,” he said.
His mission helped to deploy a satellite for the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat).
Ramadan features fasting from dawn to dusk throughout the month and it is one of the five pillars of Islam.