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News and Views

Afghanistan Celebrates Stellar Achievement

Today, Americans celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA. In its five decades, NASA has sent men in women into space and to the moon, and has examined the surface of the terrestrial planets with robotic explorers. NASA has given us pictures of our own world unlike any we have seen before, inspiring many to look at their fragile planet differently.

In Afghanistan, a cosmic anniversary is also approaching. One month from today, Afghans will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their first trip to space. On August 29, 1988, Col. Abdul Ahad Mohmand became the first Afghan and the third Muslim to travel to space. Although space travel was already a quarter-century old, Col. Mohmand’s flight, which came in the waning days of the Cold War, was filled with political symbolism. Col. Mohmand flew into orbit aboard a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft at a time when his country was occupied by Soviet forces. (The Soviet Union withdrew its forces in early 1989.)

Despite the tensions, Col. Mohmand and his fellow explorers became friends. While aboard the Mir Space Station, he brewed Afghan tea and took aerial photographs of Kabul and the Afghan mountains, in addition to performing scientific experiments. In total, Col. Mohmand spent nine days in space. In spite of the short duration of the flight, Afghanistan's first cosmonaut provided a brief moment of humanity in what was already a devastating time in Afghan history.

As we begin to push further into the vast reaches of space, the most surprising thing we find is our own brotherhood. Perhaps it is seeing the world from such distance and with no borders, perhaps it is the cooperation that goes into every spaceflight. But for whatever reason, the farther we reach from earth, the farther we seem to pull together.

Other Resources: First Afghan in Space (Facebook)

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