Muhammed Faris is an astronaut and the first Syrian to fly into space. Besides, he is only the second Arab and Muslim to do so – the first being Saudi Arabia’s Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. After completing his studies in a military school, he served as a colonel and pilot in the Syrian Air Force. It was due to his specialization in navigation that he was selected for the prestigious Interkosmos spaceflight program, as part of Soviet space missions, and got a chance to fly to the Mir orbital space station as the first Syrian astronaut, along with two other Soviet-national cosmonauts. After conducting a series of successful research experiments in the areas of materials processing and space medicine, he traveled back to earth after spending a long week in space. The Soviet government honored him with the highest civilian decoration in the Soviet Union – Order of Lenin. He fled to Turkey in 2012 and joined the armed opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule
Childhood & Early Life
Muhammed Ahmed Faris was born on May 26, 1951 in Aleppo, Syria.
In 1969, he enrolled in Military Pilot School at the Syrian Air Force Academy, and graduated in 1973 to join Syrian Air Force.
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While serving in the air force, he gradually rose to higher ranks, becoming a colonel. He also worked as an aviation instructor and specialist in navigation later on.
Since his specialization was navigation, he was short-listed for the Interkosmos spaceflight program and left for a training session to cosmonaut training centre, situated in Star City, Russia, in September 1985.
He joined the Interkosmos spaceflight program, alongside two Soviet astronauts, flying to the orbiting Mir space station in July 1987.
Upon successful completion of his space mission, he resumed his services in the Syrian Air Force and settled down in Aleppo, where he started training military pilots as the head of the institute, in 2001.
In August 2012, he rebelled against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime joined the rebels as a commander in the Free Syrian Army.
He fled to Turkey in his fourth attempt, after failing in the three previous defection attempts, thus adding to the list of distinguished defectors, which included military generals, former Prime Minister Riyad Hijab and Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass.
He is one of the over 45,000 refugees sheltered by Turkey, particularly military refugees, in the wake of rising conflicts between Assad’s forces and rebels, during the Syrian Civil War.
After hiding for over a month, in an interview with Al Aan TV in September 2012, he revealed his reasons for defecting from Syria and quoted that he actually wanted to escape months back but was prevented due to close surveillance,.
He became the first Syrian to accompany the three-man crew as a research cosmonaut aboard the Soyuz TM-3 in a Soviet space mission to the orbital space station, Mir, on July 22, 1987.
He carried out research experiments in space medicine and materials science, along with two other cosmonauts – Aleksandr Viktorenko and Aleksandr P. Aleksandrov, and returned after 7 days 23 hours 4 minutes on Soyuz TM-2.
Awards & Achievements
In July 1987, he was honored with the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ title, becoming the only Syrian cosmonaut and third person from the Arab world, after Gamal Abdel Nasser and Ahmed Ben Bella, to receive the award.
He received the ‘Order of Lenin’ from the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union, for his participation in the Interkosmos spaceflight program, in July 1987.
Personal Life & Legacy
He is married to Gind Akil and has three children: Gadil, Kutaib and Mir. He named his third child after the Soviet space station, Mir.