UAE astronaut spies Mecca from space station during Hajj (photo)

overhead view of mecca with lots of roads and desert
United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi shared this picture of Mecca during the annual Hajj pilgrimage on June 26, 2023. (Image credit: Sultan Al Neyadi/UAE Space Agency/Twitter)

The first long-duration Emirati astronaut to reach space photographed Mecca on Monday (June 26) during an annual pilgrimage there by Muslims.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, who also observed Ramadan off Earth shortly after his March 2 launch to the International Space Station (ISS), paid tribute to the Hajj (pilgrimage) alongside a tweet showcasing the Saudi Arabian sacred city.

"Today is Arafat Day, a pivotal day during Hajj, that reminds us that faith is not just about belief, but also action and reflection," Al Neyadi tweeted on Tuesday (June 27) in a post that featured the photo, which he snapped on Monday. "May it inspire us all to strive for compassion, humility and unity."

Related: UAE's 1st long-duration astronaut marks the start of Ramadan in space

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The Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, is one of the tenets of Islam. It requires every able-bodied adult Muslim who can afford it — without undue hardship to family members — to go to the holy city at least once in their lifetime. Proxies can also be appointed in case of difficulties, however. 

"The pilgrimage rite begins on the seventh day of Dhū al-Ḥijjah, the last month of the Islamic year, and ends on the 12th day," according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The hajj dates vary every year in the Gregorian calendar that most of the world uses, as the Islamic calendar follows the cycles of the moon. This year, the Gregorian dates of Hajj are June 26 to July 1.

Al Neyadi observes Islam, but did not say in his tweet whether he has yet made the pilgrimage. He expressed an interest in fasting for Ramadan (another tenet) while in orbit, but added before launch that he may not participate for operational reasons.

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Al Neyadi is not the first astronaut to be in space during Ramadan; the first-ever Muslim to go to space, Prince Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, launched on the space shuttle mission STS-51G as the holy month was finishing on June 17, 1985.

While in space, Al Neyadi plans to perform 19 experiments covering matters such as radiation, sleep, back pain and material science, according to an overview provided by the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre, which manages the UAE's astronaut program. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: