How The "Neil Armstrong Of The Arab World" Is Helping Refugees

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Syrian astronaut Muhammed Faris has been hailed as "the Neil Armstrong of the Arab world," but he's now one of millions of Syrians who've been forced to abandon their homes and build new lives abroad as refugees.

Faris made history as the first Syrian — and only the second Arab — to travel to space, when he took off for the then-Soviet Union's Mir space station in July 1987. Roads, a school, and even an airport in his home country are named in his honor.

“Those seven days, 23 hours, and five minutes changed my life,” Faris told The Guardian of his time in space. “When you have seen the whole world through your window, there is no us and them, no politics.”

But nearly three decades later, that "us and them" mentality continues to cause conflict and heartache here on Earth. And the consequences are all too real for the former space star.

Faris, who served as a general in the Syrian Air Force, said he decided to flee the country in 2012 after seeing members of President Bashar al-Assad's government kill children and civilians, Turkey's Daily Sabah reports.

Now living in Turkey, Faris fights Assad's regime using "words, not weapons," The Guardian reports, participating in meetings of an antiviolence, anti-Assad group in Spain and consulting with Turkey's government about rights for Syrian refugees.

Despite the bloodshed and destruction wreaked on his country by five years of war, Faris is holding out hope that he will be able to move back to Syria one day. His dream, he told The Guardian, is to "sit in my country with my garden and see children play outside without the fear of bombs."

Until then, he'll continue his long-running mission to make the world a better place.

“From afar, when the Earth was so small, I really felt in my heart I could make a big difference in the world,” he said. “It has not been easy.”

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