by S. Ghilzai / Published on June 29, 2014
Abdul Ahad Momand is the first and only Afghan to have traveled to space.
Momand was born on January 1st, 1959 in Sardah, Ghazni Province. He attended the Polytechnical University of Kabul and the Air Force Academy, where he trained to be a fighter pilot. Momand served in the Air Force and achieved the rank of a Colonel. At the age of 29, he was chosen out of 400 candidates to be a part of the Soviet space program, and headed to Star City, just outside of Moscow, to train at the Cosmonaut Training Centre to become an astronaut.
On August 29, 1988, Momand traveled to space on the Mir Ep-3 Mission (Soyuz TM-6/ Soyuz TM-5) with Commander Vladimir Lyakhov and Valery Polyakov. The three-man crew were to travel to the Mir space station. Momand was to take photographs of Afghanistan, to use for mapping the mountainous, rugged terrain of the country. Momand spent 8 days, 20 hours and 26 minutes in space.
After Momand’s mother expressed concern for her son’s safety, President Najibullah arranged for a call from the Presidential Palace to the spacecraft. When Momand spoke with his mother and President Najibullah, Pashto became the fourth spoken language in space.
When Lyakhov and Momand boarded Soyuz TM-5 to return to earth (Polyakov was to stay on the space station), the space craft’s computer’s malfunctioned. The two were stuck orbiting the earth for an extra day, in their landing capsule, with no food or water, until the landing functions were fixed.
The pair landed in Kazakhstan on September 7th, 1988.
Momand’s voyage to space was a crucial symbol in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Momand was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union on September 7th, 1988. He has been living in Stuttgart, Germany with his wife and three children since 1992.