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Part-time model is Malaysia's first astronaut

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor (seen on the left). Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Sept 24, 2007
A 35-year-old doctor who is also a part-time model will blast into space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket next month as Malaysia's first astronaut, the country confirmed Monday.

"On behalf of the government and all Malaysians, I pray that this mission will be successful as planned," said Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, officially confirming Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor had edged out fellow candidate Faiz Khaleed, 27.

The two men have been undergoing training in Russia after being chosen from thousands of hopefuls in a nationwide contest, held after Russia agreed to send a Malaysian into space as part of a billion-dollar fighter jet deal.

Muszaphar will visit the International Space Station with professional Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko and American biochemist Peggy Whitson, spending nine days there before returning to Earth with the current crew.

Abdullah said that both Muszaphar and Faiz, an army dentist, will this week travel to the launch site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, for final training before the launch on October 10, which will be televised live in Malaysia.

Both men are Muslims and while others of that faith have ventured into space, none have done so during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Jamaludin Jarjis, said Muszaphar only had to pray three times a day, not five as is the usual Muslim practice, and that he could defer his fast.

"You can fast later. Normally if you go for a journey you can postpone it," he told reporters. "In Islam, if you have a mission like this, you can do it later. I will leave it to him to decide."

"I am happy with the mission. By sending a man to space, it will create awareness among children to embrace knowledge. That is the ultimate target," he added.

Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development earlier this year issued a 20-page book of guidelines on how to practice the religion in space.

It covers conundrums like washing rituals required before prayer, saying that if water is not available the astronaut can symbolically "sweep holy dust" onto the face and hands "even if there is no dust" in the space station.

There are also suggestions on how to pray in a zero-gravity environment.

"During the prayer ritual, if you can't stand up straight, you can hunch. If you can't stand, you can sit. If you can't sit, you should lie down," it says.

And in the unlikely event of a Muslim astronaut's death, the body should be brought back to Earth for burial, failing which it should be "interred" in space after a brief ceremony, it said, without giving details.

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Malaysian 'Gagarin' hopes to observe Ramadan fast in space
Star City , Russia (AFP) Sept 20, 2007
Malaysia's soon-to-be first astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor said on Thursday he hoped to fast aboard the International Space Station as he visits there in the holy month of Ramadan.

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