10 October, 2007

Malaysian Astronaut Ready to Fly

Muslim astronaut are ready for blast off

Malaysia savored one of its proudest occasions Wednesday as its first astronaut prepared to blast into orbit.

Two veteran astronauts and Malaysia's first spaceflyer are poised for a Wednesday launch toward the International Space Station (ISS) to begin the busy mission of upgrading the orbital laboratory.

ISS Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson - the first woman to lead a station crew - will rocket into space alongside cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Malaysian Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor aboard a Russian-built rocket set to launch at 9:21 a.m. EDT (1321 GMT). Whitson and her crewmates expect to host three visiting space shuttle crews and install new ISS modules and laboratory segments during their six-month mission.

"It's going to be very aggressive with all the activities going on," Whitson said of the upcoming mission. "And it is going to be challenging."

Whitson and Malenchenko will replace the space station's current Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov during a 12-day crew swap. Shukor will return on Oct. 21 with the Expedition 15 crew, but NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson – currently serving as an ISS flight engineer – will stay aboard to join the first stage of Expedition 16.

The Russian-built Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft ferrying Shukor and the Expedition 16 crew to the ISS will launch from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the same site that launched the world's first artificial satellite - Sputnik - 50 years ago last week.

"I believe we have achieved a considerable progress over such a short time period," Malenchenko said of Sputnik's anniversary. "Currently we have a continuous presence of humans in space, not only living in space but performing complicated activities and tasks, performing science experiments, and it has been going on for years."

Malaysia's first astronaut wants to inspire his countrymen just like Yuri Gagarin did more than 45 years ago.

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, an orthopaedic surgeon and university lecturer from Kuala Lumpur, will take off for the $100-billion International Space Station (ISS) from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday afternoon.

Paraphrasing U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong's words when he became the firm man on the moon in 1969, Shukor said the journey would be a "giant leap" forward for all Malaysians.

"I'm hoping to be actually like Yuri Gagarin to inspire the nation," Shukor said.

Malaysian officials have described the voyage as a national milestone as their country marks 50 years of independence.

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has congratulated Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor Sheikh Mustapha for being picked as Malaysia's first angkasawan (cosmonaut) who will go on a space mission tomorrow.

"I wish to congratulate him. I'm very happy that our man has been chosen for this special mission into space. I hope that he'll do well ," he told reporters after chairing the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (IRDA) board meeting here today.

"I'm sure the Russians know best after having conducted the test. They have done everything they could to ensure that the person who is finally selected for the mission will be the one who is capable of performing the task that is assigned to him," he said.



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