Prince Sultan bin Salman Al Saud was the first (and so far only) Saudi astronaut, and was included in the crew of STS-51-G as a payload specialist representing Arabsat. Does that mean his role was strictly honorary and he had no explicit function within the mission (somewhat like the Teacher in Space Project)?

In essence, what were his duties aboard the mission as a payload specialist?

  • $\begingroup$ The info here seems to imply that Prince Sultan had a working knowledge of the Arabsat satellite deployment. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Sep 19, 2013 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage - That looks like an answer to me. Or at least part of one. $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2013 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ The Space Above Us Podcast covered STS-51G recently (episode 85, 11 July 2019); I haven't listened to the episode yet, but it may have some information. $\endgroup$ Aug 15, 2019 at 3:30

2 Answers 2


It's important to note that Al-Saud (the way his name was listed in his NASA bio, now gone down the memory hole like most of jsc.nasa.gov) paid for his ticket.

Back in those days of flying commercial payloads on the Shuttle, it was possible to pay for a payload specialist seat as part of "Standard Launch Services".

enter image description here

(emphasis mine, scanned from STS Customer Accomodations JSC-21000-HBK)

See also Rodolfo Neri Vela of Mexico who flew as a payload specialist when the Mexican communications satellite MORELOS-B was launched from STS-61B.

Their countries paid for the payload, which included the payload specialist seat, and got to pick who flew.

What they actually did on the flight was of secondary importance. Unfortunately, these missions flew too long ago to have their flight plans posted online, which would be the definite answer of what each crewperson did.

Note that Spacefacts states

Sultan Salman Al-Saud, the Saudi Arabian payload specialist was not involved in the deployment activities of Arabsat.

but goes on to say

Sultan Salman Al-Saud, the Saudi Arabian Arabsat payload specialist, took part in four scientific investigations: Earth Observation, Phase Separation, Ionized Gas and French Postural Experiments. Salman Al-Saud photographed Saudi Arabia during Discovery's daylight passes over its southwestern region with a 70 mm camera from orbit. The photographs were be studied by Saudi scientists at the research institute, the University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. They also were compared with previous data from multispectral scanner, thematic mapper and radar images (SIR-A and SIR-B). Analysis covered geological features, sand dune morphology, hydrogeological features, turbidity in the Red Sea, urban areas and forestry.

In another experiment, two liquids which do not mix on Earth were studied in microgravity. They were referred to as "phases." Using Phase Separation Experiment hardware developed at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Salman Al-Saud placed various concentrations of Saudi, Kuwaiti and Algerian oils mixed with water in a hand-held, transparent Plexiglas container with 15 chambers, each having a small metal mixing ball. He shaked the container and mount it in front of a fluorescent light, then photograph the separation and record his observations [sic].

The Ionized Gas Experiment (ICE) required that Sultan Salman Al-Saud, using the Orbiter Discovery's TV cameras, recorded thruster firings in specified configurations to study the mechanics of thruster plumes and the degree off Ionization produced. This experiment was part of a Saudi Arabian student Ph.D. thesis at Stanford University. Purpose was to assess the thruster plumes effect on operations measurements and communications associated with space vehicles. The data obtained also were analyzed at the university of petroleum and Minerals for a better understanding of the impact of gas particles on solid surfaces. Salman Al-Saud also photographed the Arabsat satellite's rocket engine firing.

Salman Al-Saud assisted French payload specialist Patrick Baudry in the postural Experiment on the adaptation mechanism of the sensory motor activities. This included posture stabilization and orientation and the role of vision in posture control and reflex mechanisms that stabilize the retina. Requiring about 3 hours, the experiment was performed before, at the beginning, during the middle and last day of flight two times a day.


I would stay away from terms and sayings such as "honorary" and "no explicit function" -- especially when you are talking about Christa McAuliffe. It's insulting.

Having said that, there is a history of sending astronauts into space for indirect purposes. Early astronauts were really not required for the mission other than to demonstrate survivability -- far from an "honorary" role... McAuliffe's purpose was perfectly in line with the overall mission of NASA to build a scientific/technical American workforce by inspiring school children. While the appropriateness of that mission for a government agency is subject to debate, her role in it is not.

Finally, if you are going to create a list like this, you probably should include Jake Garn. Even he managed to provide a data point on space sickness...

So, to answer your question directly, no.

  • $\begingroup$ If I have shown any disrespect to the late Christa McAuliffe I humbly apologize. The Challenger tragedy traumatized me as a child, and I hold her memory sacred. Still, you've answered the question as if it had been centered around her involvement, rather than Prince Sultan's. $\endgroup$ Sep 17, 2013 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ That's the crux of the question. What does that mean? Did he do the actual deployment? Did he simply supervise? Did he just do a ceremonial pulling-of-the-switch as a representative of the owners? $\endgroup$ Sep 17, 2013 at 22:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik Your answer is incomplete given the rewording of the OP. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Sep 19, 2013 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik From the OP: "In essence, what were his duties aboard the mission as a payload specialist?" $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Sep 23, 2013 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to know why you just made 8 rollbacks to this answer. $\endgroup$ Aug 17, 2019 at 9:16

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