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Malaysia Hopes Space Voyage Will Inspire Future Scientists

Malaysia Hopes Space Voyage Will Inspire Future Scientists

11 October 2007

Malaysia's first astronaut is orbiting the Earth after months of training and a successful launch from Kazakhstan. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor is accompanying American Astronaut Peggy Whitson and Russian Cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko on a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. Chad Bouchard reports from Bangkok.

A Russian Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft carrying Southeast Asia's first space traveler lifted off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur space center Wednesday night.

The spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the International Space Station on Friday.

Malaysian astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor gives the thumbs-up sign during a training session in Star City outside Moscow, 18 Sep 2007
Malaysian astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor gives the thumbs-up sign during a training session in Star City outside Moscow, 18 Sep 2007
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a Malaysian orthopedic surgeon, is due to research the effects of micro-gravity and space radiation on cells, and conduct experiments on proteins in an effort to develop an HIV vaccine.

In an interview with VOA from Kazakhstan, Malaysia's Science, Technology and Innovations Minister, Jamaluddin Jarjis, says he hopes the mission will inspire a new generation of Malaysian scientists.

"Putting our man, our Malaysian man in space, is basically - we want to raise the bar for Malaysia in terms of acquiring knowledge for the future, especially the young ones, the five million kids in school," he said. "And also we are quite proud, because in conjunction with our 50th anniversary of the nation, that we are positioning ourselves as part the - connected to the world."

Muszaphar is a member of Malaysia's Malay ethnic group, and much advance study and debate went into deciding how he would honor his Muslim religious duties while in space.

The Muslim requirement to face in the direction of Mecca during daily prayers, for example, is a challenging prospect while orbiting hundreds of miles above the earth in a weightless environment. An imaginary line from Mecca into space was drawn, and it was decided that Muszaphar would face that line at the start of his prayers, and continue facing the same direction throughout the flight.

He also pledged to follow religious practice during the last days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which coincide with the beginning of the mission.

Malaysian clerics exempted Muszaphar from fasting while in space, but he says he will observe the fasts anyway.

The country's Ministry of Religion has written the world's first handbook for Muslim astronauts to sort out that and other religious issues.

Malaysia paid Russia $25 million to allow Muszaphar's participation, part of a $900 million package linked to Malaysia's purchase of 18 Russian fighter jets.

The 35-year-old surgeon is scheduled to return to Earth October 21, while his two companions remain behind in the space station.

U.S., Russian, Malaysian heading for space station

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) -- A Russian rocket blasted off from a launch facility in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, carrying an American, a Russian and a Malaysian to the international space station.


The new crew for the international space station blasts off from the Baikonur cosmodrome on Wednesday.

The Soyuz-FG rocket soared into a darkening sky above the Kazakh steppe.

Aboard were Peggy Whitson of Beaconsfield, Iowa, who will be the first woman to command the space station, veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, and Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, the ninth Muslim in space but the first from Malaysia. They will arrive in two days.

The mission coincides with the last days of Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast from dawn until sundown, but Malaysian clerics decreed that Sheikh Muszaphar will be excused from fasting while in space.

His religion also requires that he face Mecca for prayer -- a direction that will change as the spacecraft orbits the Earth -- but clerics decided that the exact location matters only for the beginning of the prayer ritual.

Applause broke out among space officials and other onlookers at the launch site. Sheikh Muszaphar's parents watched the liftoff from an observation area, praying and in tears. Video Watch the Russian rocket blast off »

"I'm happy for my country, for Russia, for the United States and everybody," his father said.

Whitson and Malenchenko will stay on as the station's new crew, replacing cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov, and will be joined in October by U.S. astronaut Daniel Tani, who is arriving with the space shuttle Discovery. Tani will replace fellow American Clayton Anderson, who has been at the station since June.

Sheikh Muszaphar, a 35-year-old orthopedic surgeon, is to spend about 10 days on the station, performing experiments involving diseases and the effects of microgravity and space radiation on cells and genes.

On Tuesday, he told reporters that his trip will be an inspiration for his southeast Asian nation as well as to other Muslims all over the world.

"It's a small step for me, but a great leap for the Malaysian people," he said, paraphrasing Neil Armstrong's famous words after the Apollo landing on the moon.

The $25 million agreement for a Malaysian astronaut to fly to space was negotiated in 2003 along with a $900 million deal for Malaysia to buy 18 Russian fighter jets.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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