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. Malaysian astronaut's rocket rolled out to launchpad

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by Staff Writers
Baikonur, Kazakhstan (AFP) Oct 8, 2007
The Russian rocket due to take Malaysia's first astronaut into orbit was raised into position on Monday ready for a launch seen by Malaysian officials as a national milestone.

The 50-metre (160-foot) Soyuz rocket bearing the Malaysian, Russian and US flags was eased out of its hangar by a train locomotive for the five-kilometre (three-mile) journey to its launch pad as the sun broke over the horizon at Baikonur cosmodrome.

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a doctor and part-time model, is to blast off on Wednesday to the International Space Station (ISS) with Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko and American Peggy Whitson.

"I can't believe how close we are. To see the Malaysian flag and the Malaysian crest on there is amazing," said aerospace engineer Shankini Doraisingam, as the rocket began its journey guarded by armed police.

Muszaphar has attracted interest with a promise that he will, if possible, observe the fasting regime of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on the ISS.

Malaysian religious authorities have prepared guidelines on how to adapt the rules as the ISS circles the Earth 16 times each calendar day, which would technically mean having to pray 80 times every 24 hours, and cause havoc with the Ramadan rule on fasting between dawn and dusk.

Muszaphar will treat the crew to Malaysian food including traditional biscuits eaten when Ramadan ends with a public holiday in Malaysia on October 12, said Doraisingam.

Muszaphar was said by reserve astronaut Faiz Khaleed to be "a bit nervous," but mainly focussed on scientific experiments he will conduct.

These involve seeing how cancer cells respond to treatment in weightless conditions, where they will be able to grow in three dimensions and thus in a similar way to inside the human body, said project director Zulkeffeli Mat Jusoh.

Malaysia is paying for the voyage as part of a billion-dollar purchase of Russian fighter jets.

Russia built the Baikonur cosmodrome on the arid plains of Kazakhstan in Soviet times and has continued to use the site under a rental deal since the 1991 Soviet collapse.

Russia is marking 50 years of space exploration, having celebrated on October 4 the 50th anniversary of the launch of the first ever satellite, Sputnik.

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Russian MP to become 'space tourist' in 2008: report
Moscow (AFP) Oct 5, 2007
A Russian member of parliament is to become the next space tourist in 2008, replacing a US computer game developer scheduled to fly at the same time, the Kommersant daily reported on Friday.

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