First Arab Muslim astronaut to lead Saudi space agency amid leadership reshuffle
Saudi Arabia is to get its own space agency, as King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud orders his 62-year-old son, Prince Sultan bin Salman, to lead the organisation.
- King Salman makes his first cabinet changes after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi
- Prince Sultan bin Salman was the first Arab and Muslim to enter space in 1985
- The Kingdom is also set to receive a new foreign minister
Prince Salman was the first Arab and Muslim to travel into space in 1985, helping to deploy a satellite for the Arab Satellite Communications Organisation with NASA.
The announcement is part of the first major reshuffle of leadership positions after the controversy surrounding the killing of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Many — including the US Senate and CIA — point to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the person responsible for the assassination, though Riyadh has maintained that these accusations are unsubstantiated.
Saudi Arabia’s embattled foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, who fronted global media after the scandal, has now been replaced by former finance minister Ibrahim al-Assaf.
Mr Assaf was detained briefly in the Crown Prince’s anti-corruption crackdown last year but was released within weeks of his detention at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel last year.
He was cleared of wrongdoing and without making any payment to the state, as many others held in the crackdown had to do.
He is also a member of the board of national oil company Aramco.
The Saudis have gone into damage control after the Mr Khashoggi’s murder. (Saudi Royal Court: Bandar Algaloud)
Major reshuffles to security and intelligence
The kingdom will now have three government bodies aimed at improving its intelligence operations.
King Salman also appointed Prince Abdullah bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz to replace Prince Khaled bin Ayyaf as chief of the National Guard, and ordered a reshuffle of Saudi Arabia’s Political and Security Council.
General Kalid bin Qirar al-Harbi was named general security chief, while Musaed al-Aiban was named national security adviser.
Turki al-Sheikh, head of Saudi Arabia’s sports committee and a close adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed, was replaced and named as new chief of the Entertainment Commission.
Turki al-Shabana, an executive at broadcaster Rotana, was appointed minister of information.
Rotana is owned by billionaire investor Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was also detained at the Ritz last year and later released.
Space agency part of economic diversification
As the gulf state seeks to diversify its economy from oil exports, the Saudi leadership has sought to turn the state into a research and technology superpower.
In 2017, the Saudis pulled off a successful media stunt by giving citizenship to a robot called Sophia in a bid to showcase their investment in robotics.
The Crown Prince has invested over $US1 billion into space exploration, via Richard Branson’s Virgin space companies: Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit.
King Salman didn’t give any specific details about how Prince Salman would steer the new space agency.