I just read an article on NewScientist about how Malaysia’s National Space Agency is trying to determine how its astronaut candidates will practice Islam in space. Three of its four astronaut candidates are Muslim, and two will be selected for a future Russian space flight.
Once in their orbiting spacecraft, they will circle the Earth once every 90 minutes. Traditionally, Muslims pray five times per day, at times connected to the position of the Sun in the sky. This will make prayer observance a challenge if they accept a “day” as being just 90 minutes long.
Additionally, Muslims turn toward Mecca when they pray. Zooming around the Earth at 28,000 kilometres per hour might make pinpointing the exact location of Mecca pretty tricky.
There’s also a problem when it comes to ablutions, a sort of cleansing ritual, before prayer. But water is used sparingly in space and does not flow downward in microgravity.
Personally, I think these problems are superficial because Islam is an easy religion, and through its verses and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH, we know that what really counts is the will to do a certain thing such as worship, and that there are ways around to make things more practical and easier for the unable.
So, regarding the times of prayer, just like for Muslims who live close to Earth’s polar regions or at high altitudes; They should simply pick various times that would roughly correspond to their morning, noon, afternoon, sunset and night prayers.
As for praying towards the location of Mecca, if it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact location, it’s not really necessary, an estimation will do. After all, it’s the will that counts.
And when it comes to ablutions, let’s not forget that Islam started out in the Arab peninsula, so mostly desert, and they didn’t always have access to water, and so there is a process called Tayammum which is a dry form of ablution.