Muszaphar to be First Malaysian in Space

Because many of us in America (as well as Russia and many European countries) have become a bit jaded by more than four decades of space travel, it’s always interesting to see the excitement in other countries as they send their first astronauts into space, usually on a mission bound for the International Space Station.

The next country to send a first astronaut into space is Malaysia:

Malaysia’s astronaut candidates Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor and Kapt Dr Faiz Khaleed have passed their training programme successfully and have qualified to become astronauts.

Both the medical officer and army dental surgeon are equally eligible to be sent to space on Oct 10, but if all goes according to plan, it will be Dr Sheikh Muszaphar making history as the first Malaysian in space.

Dr Sheikh Muszaphar, 35, has been named as part of the three-member first crew for the Soyuz 15-S mission alongside Yuri Malechencko from Russia and American Peggy Whitson, while Kapt Dr Faiz, 27, is a member of the second crew with Michael Fincke from the United States and Russian Sharizan Sharipov. 




Both Muszaphar and Khaleed are keeping a blog about their efforts to "realize the country’s dream." The two beat out a large number of aspirants who went through rigorous training for the honor of becoming Malaysia’s first astronauts. 

It’s also interesting to note how different cultures face different questions as they send their first members into space. For example, Muszaphar’s October 10th launch will take place at the tail end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when practicing Muslims fast and pray five times per day. Being in space might make such acts of devotion difficult, however, so what are Muszaphar’s obligations as a Muslim while in zero gravity?

The International Herald Tribune gives us the answer: 

Malaysia’s first astronaut will not be required to fast while in space even though he is a Muslim and the flight will be during Ramadan, a government minister said Monday….

Sheikh Muszaphar, who has been fasting during training along with his backup Faiz Khaleed, can postpone the fasting until after he returns.

The fasting month of Ramadan started on Sept. 13 and is expected to end on Oct. 12, which means Sheikh Muszaphar will have to fast for only two or three days if he insists on not eating from dawn to dusk, an Islamic religious requirement….

Jamaluddin also said he expects Sheikh Muszaphar to pray only three times a day instead of the obligatory five to reduce the inconvenience of going through prayer rituals in the gravity-free atmosphere….

Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council has ruled that the astronaut will not be required to kneel to pray if the absence of gravity makes it too hard, nor will he have to wash hands and face with water as required — a simple wet towel will do.

Russian television has also filed a report on Malaysia’s first foray into space: