20 October, 2007

Spaceflight participant or astronaut?

ASK any patriotic Malaysian and he would say his countryman now orbiting the Earth is truly an astronaut or angkasawan, the Malay word for astronaut.

But ever since the US space agency Nasa described Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor as a spaceflight participant, the blogs have been buzzing.

The Nasa comment riled many Malaysians.

Malaysia's Science, Techology and Innovations Minister, Datuk Seri Jamaludin Jarjis, told Bernama that Dr Muszaphar would be recognised as a cosmonaut - the Russian equivalent of the astronaut - next month.

"Malaysia's first astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, who is scheduled to return to earth on Sunday, will be commissioned as a cosmonaut along with another astronaut candidate Faiz Khaleed, Science, Technology and Innovations Minister Auk Seri Dr Jamaludin Jarjis was quoted by local media as saying on Friday."

The commissioning ceremony would take place in Russia two weeks after Sheikh Muszaphar's return as he has to be quarantined for one week after touchdown on Earth, said Jamaludin"

His comments came after Nasa had described Dr Muszaphar as a 'space flight participant' on its website.

Nasa described the Malaysian as a 'spaceflight participant... flying under contract with the Russian Federal Space Agency'.

The Malaysian minister told journalists: 'The Russians themselves had told our man that he is a cosmonaut, and that's the end of the story.'

He added that it was the Russians who had selected the candidate and will be sending the Malaysian angkasawan to space and therefore it is appropriate for them to give the recognition and not the US.

But the comments on the Internet did not die down.

Some Malaysians saw the trip as a waste of money.

The US$25 million ($37m) agreement for the Malaysian to fly to space was negotiated in 2003 along with a US$900 million deal for Malaysia to buy 18 Russian fighter jets.

Criticism of the cost of the trip led to officials avoiding any mention of it, other than to say it is part of a US$900 million defence deal.

The Malaysian government did not see it that way.

In an interview with the Voice of American, Science, Technology and Innovations Minister Jamaluddin Jarjis, said he hoped the space mission would 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.

You might not know this, but there have been a lot of unhappy rumblings in Malaysian society regarding our paying the Russians buckets of money – the amount of which the Malaysian public is not 100% sure about – to train a bloke to be a spaceman (as accurate a definition I can think of, because he is a man and he is in space).

Going into space is a big deal. Just ask Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth, two space tourists who did not have the luxury of buying Russian jet fighters to contra the costs of their cosmic flights. Coincidentally, one of the nasty things people are calling our Malaysian spaceman is “space tourist”.

For your information, unlike the two gentlemen mentioned above, our spaceman is not a tourist. No, no, no. He is going to do experiments, important experiments like main gasing,it's a physics demonstration to show the effects of microgravity.

Wah! We are now a space power?

As blogger Ahirudin Attan noted in his column, Rocky's Bru, after watching the rocket carrying Dr Muszaphar take off: 'There've been a lot of verbal fights about the decision to send a Malaysian up there. But to quote this person sitting across the table enjoying his glass of wine: 'Call him an angkasawan, a cosmonaut, a space participant, or whatever you like... that's the first Malaysian in space there!'



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today the sleepy PM told all and sundry who wanted to listen that Malaysia can afford to do all these silly things because we have the finance. More space tourists can be sent later. We have the means? Yet we cant afford textbooks for the students.

October 23, 2007 12:34 PM  

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