Monday, November 23, 2009

Angkasawan Programme Opened Up A Host Of Opportunities, Says Ongkili

KOTA KINABALU, Nov 23 (Bernama) -- Malaysia's Angkasawan (Space) programme opened up opportunities between Malaysia and international space agencies to conduct microgravity science experiments in the country, said Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili.

He said two agencies offered to share their expertise with Malaysia, namely the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Federal Space Agency of Russia (ROSCOSMOS).

"In the Angkasawan programme in 2007, two experiments on the crystallization of proteins were successful, resulting in patent and trademark applications.

"Following this success, we are now collaborating with the Japanese on utilisation of high quality growth experiments," he told reporters when met at the Second Workshop on Microgravity Sciences here Monday.

According to Ongkili, the collaboration would span over three years an entailed sending 24 enzymes and proteins to be crystallized in space.

On the collaboration with ROSCOSMOS, Ongkili said Malaysian scientists would be able to conduct microgravity experiments in space using the Bio-Satellite Programme under the Institute of Bio-Medical Problems (IBMP) of Russia.

He also urged the National Space Agency (Angkasa) and the National Biotechnology Division (Biotek) to undertake microgravity research as an important development programme under the Ninth Malaysia Plan, which would then be tied-up with Malaysia's second Angkasawan programme in the next five years.

"But the second mission has to be significantly different from the first one in terms of bringing direct benefits to the country's economy," he added.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Second Mission

AS Malaysia’s first astronaut, Angkasawan Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Al-Masrie Shukor has become a national hero, as well as a poster boy of sorts for the National Space Agency (Angkasa), under the auspices of the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (Mosti). His dashing good looks and charming personality have endeared him to the public, and generated much interest in the country’s efforts towards becoming one of the elite group of countries to have made it to space.

Dr Sheikh Muszaphar, however, is not simply a talking head for Malaysia’s space programme. While very supportive of the endeavour, he is quite vocal when pointing out what he perceives as its flaws.

What disappoints him is a lack of follow-through after his return from his mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

“I believe Mosti should do more for the space programme. It’s not just about training astronauts; there also needs to be efforts to unite aerospace engineers, who are mostly working in other industries now,” he says.

“Mosti should also have a vision, a blueprint. Look at South Korea, they went up after me (Korean Yi So-yeon was sent to the ISS in April 2008), but they already have a second phase programme.”

While declining to comment on Dr Sheikh Muszaphar’s statements, Angkasa’s director-general Dr Mustafa Din Subari shared in a phone interview that a second space mission is already in the planning stages, to be implemented within the next five years.

Currently in talks with the Russians and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), Angkasa is planning to send Mejar Dr Faiz Khaleed, who served as Dr Sheikh Muszaphar’s back-up in the first mission, to the ISS.

“The first mission was very significant because it was the first opportunity to send a Malaysian into space. That in itself put Malaysia on the map. (We think) that the second mission should be even more significant, by making it a longer stay, and emphasising much more on scientific experiments,” explains Dr Mustafa, adding that they are targeting a four to six-month stay aboard the ISS for Dr Faiz.

While Dr Sheikh Muszaphar’s mission was funded by the government-to-government offset agreement with Russia, Dr Mustafa says the next trip into space will be financed by the Malaysian government.

He further says that the results of the five experiments Dr Sheikh Muszaphar carried out in space will be disclosed later this month at a workshop being held in Kota Kinabalu.

“We have been reaching out to several schools a week since the space mission, with the aim of creating awareness (on the programme). We also launched a coffee-table book last month that details the first mission (from beginning to end),” he says.

Greater awareness

Dr Sheikh Muszaphar, however, does not believe Malaysia is ready to send another astronaut into space in the near future.

“Not only is it extremely expensive, about US$30mil (RM101mil) for 12 days, but Mosti must have an objective for the mission. They should study exactly what they want to do (on this mission),” he says. “However, I do hope the next mission, when it happens, is better than mine.”

Having parted ways with Mosti to rejoin Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, where he has previously both studied and lectured, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar is not part of the ministry’s recently started Malaysia Astronaut Foundation.

Instead, he says he is forming an independent association with the 51 other candidates who were shortlisted for the Angkasawan programme. The association will work on educating and creating awareness on science and space exploration.

“I get frustrated when things are not moving along (with the space programme),” admits Dr Sheikh Muszaphar. “I believe whoever conquers space will conquer the world.”

by Sharmilla Ganesan

The Star Online

16th November 2009

Sharing Space

Malaysia’s Angkasawan may be settling down, but that won’t diminish his passion for space travel.

TWO years after he became the first Malaysian to be sent into space, Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Al-Masrie Shukor is set to embark on an adventure of a different kind.

Engaged to Dr Halina Mohd Yunos, his sweetheart of eight years, the Angkasawan will tie the knot next year – and he is looking forward to family life.

Lovebirds: Angkasawan Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Al-Masrie Shukor and his fiancee
Dr Halina Mohd Yunos will finally tie the knot next year. – SAMUEL ONG/The Star

“I think it’s about time I settled down,” he shares during an interview at his recently-launched clinic in Starhill Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. “I’m going to be 38 next year, and I’ve always been a family man.”

Dr Halina, 28, laughs when asked if she’s glad they are finally getting hitched. “It’s always been part of the plan, he (Dr Sheikh Muszaphar) just had many other things to do first. He’s very focused and ambitious, and that makes me very proud,” she says.

When asked how she first met Dr Sheikh Muszaphar, Dr Halina, who is from Kluang, Johor, reveals it was when she was a medical student at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and he was her lecturer.

“It’s a little embarrassing, really!” she laughs. “You’re not supposed to have these so-called ‘sparks’ with your teacher!”

As for what it’s like to be with Malaysia’s first astronaut, she cheekily says she’s heard all his stories a thousand times. “But being in space is an amazing thing, and not everyone has the chance to experience it. Being close to him is probably the next best thing for me!”

Dr Sheikh Muszaphar at his clinic in Starhill Gallery, Kuala Lumpur.

Don’t expect marriage to slow Dr Sheikh Muszaphar down, however. “There will be no such thing as taking a break,” he stresses. “There is a lot of work to be done, and getting married isn’t going to change my passion for my work.”

Out of this world

Launched to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Soyuz TMA-11 on Oct 10, 2007, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar spent 12 days in space, fulfilling a dream he had held since the age of 10.

“It still feels like yesterday that I was (out in space); even now, I still dream about it,” he says. “The experience was out of this world, literally speaking!”

It definitely wasn’t a bed of roses, however. As part of his training in Russia, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar had to endure temperatures as low as -45°C in Siberia, sit in a spinning chair for 25 minutes every day, and prepare for microgravity environments by floating in the Black Sea for three days. And that was just the initial part of his adventure!

In the space station itself, where being in microgravity caused him to float, even the simplest daily task was a challenge.

“It’s a completely different environment, and you have to re-learn how to do all the simple things you take for granted,” he says. “For example, your taste buds change. Although the food we had was regular food that was freeze-dried and vacuum-packed, (sometimes) what you like on Earth will not be the same in space. I love mashed potatoes, but I did not like the taste of it up there at all.”

As for drinking fluids, it all has to be done through a straw, as liquids separate into little globules that can damage equipment if they are left floating around.

Even going to bed was a tricky exercise, as the astronauts slept floating, while tied to a sleeping bag. Dr Sheikh Muszaphar recalls how he forgot to tie himself one night, and woke up floating freely around the cabin.

Showers were a luxury he had to do without, as water was very limited. “We used wet wipes to clean ourselves, and when we shampoo our hair, we just wipe out the suds instead of rinsing,” he explains. “And when you brush your teeth, you swallow instead of spitting out.”

Of course, the worst was probably having to answer nature’s call. Dr Sheikh Muszaphar describes how one has to make sure he is fixed in a stable position, and then use a funnel with vacuum suction to “go” in. The bodily wastes are then ejected into the atmosphere, where they burn and disintegrate. “I hated going to the toilet in space, it was very uncomfortable!” he laughs.

The discomforts did not end after the stay at ISS. Upon returning to Earth, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar had to be quarantined, and poked and prodded by a team of doctors.

“Your body goes through many changes in space; your muscles become atrophied, and your bones become brittle. When I first got back, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t even lift my hand! We had to go through many, many tests, especially for radiation exposure,” he says, adding that one day in space exposes a person to radiation equivalent to five chest X-rays.

“But if you ask me if I’d go through all of it again, I’d definitely say yes. This is my passion, and I’d do anything to go into space!” says the cosmonaut, whose book on his time in space, My Journey Into Space, will be released next month.

The future beckons

Since returning, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar has thrown himself into creating more awareness about space travel, and science in general. Over the past two years, he has been travelling around the country giving talks on his experiences, particularly in schools.

“The euphoria among the students (about my expedition) is still there. They all want to become astronauts!” he says. “What I tell them is that the chances of becoming an astronaut are not very big, as only very few are lucky enough to be selected. Instead, I encourage them to take up science, to become doctors, scientists, aerospace engineers.”

Having parted ways with the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry earlier this year, the doctor has been revisiting his beginnings.

Besides his new clinic, which offers free treatment to several orphanages in Kuala Lumpur, he has also rejoined Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, where he did his master’s in Orthopaedic Surgery. He is currently involved with the university’s Institute of Space Science, where he is hoping to prepare teaching modules that can be taught to students next year.

Dr Sheikh Muszaphar is also in the midst of forming a scholarship programme with the Allianze College of Medical Sciences, due to kick off next year, to sponsor 200 students in the study of science. For younger enthusiasts, he is hoping to kick off a space museum that holds regular space camps.

He has big plans involving other astronauts from around the world as well, starting by bringing 100 of them to Malaysia next year.

“My plan is to send them all over the country to talk to students, to catalyse a deep interest in science,” he says.

Furthering his interest in Islam and space travel, he also hopes to form an Islamic space agency, uniting the eight other Muslim astronauts from countries like Iran, Syria and Kazakhstan.

All this seems like quite a lot for someone who will soon be juggling his work demands and a wife. But Dr Sheikh Muszaphar isn’t fazed in the slightest.

“Many people come back from space feeling different; some become very spiritual, and some even get depressed. Me, I’ve gained an appreciation of our time on Earth. We need to look at the big picture and live life to the fullest,” he says.

by Sharmilla Ganesan
The Star Online
16th November 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Taklimat Angkasa oleh Vanajah di Lawas, Sarawak

Vanajah di atas pentas

Simposium "Public Understanding of Science and Technology (PUSAT) 2009" Lawas, Sarawak.
24hb & 25hb Oktober 2009: Persatuan Ahli-ahli Sains Malaysia telah menganjurkan PUSAT 2009 di Lawas, Sarawak. Dari segi geografi, Lawas terputus dari sistem jalanraya negeri Sarawak. Ia bersambung dengan Kota Kinablau, Sabah melalui jalan dalaman yang mengambil masa lebih kurang 3 jam dengan menaiki kereta (110 km jaraknya).

SMK Merapok, Lawas

Vanajah telah menyampaikan taklimatnya di SMK Merapok, Lawas. Para hadirin terdiri daripada murid-murid sekolah menengah, guru-guru sekolah dan pegawai kerajaan. Beliau menyampaikan taklimat mengenai proses pemilihan program Angkasawan Negara. Para hadirin teruja mendengar pengalaman Vanajah sepanjang program itu terutama sekali apabila beliau menjalani saringan di Rusia. Ia merupakan suatu pencapaian yang menakjubkan oleh seorang wanita untuk berjaya menjadi antara empat calon terbaik program Angkawasan Negara. Taklimat beliau telah memberi inspirasi kepada genarasi muda yang hadir sekaligus berjaya memupuk semangat jati diri mereka.

Para hadirin

Vanajah menceritakan pengalaman beliau

Seorang ikon Malaysia...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Space talk by Vanajah in Lawas, Sarawak

Vanajah on stage

Symposium on "Public Understanding of Science & Technology (PUSAT) 2009" in Lawas, Sarawak

24th & 25th October 2009: The Malaysian Scientific Association (MSA) organized this year's PUSAT in Lawas, Sarawak. Lawas, by virtue of its geographical location, is cut off from the rest of Sarawak's road network. It is however linked by a trunk road to Sabah, which takes approximately 3 hours from Kota Kinabalu (110 kms).

SMK Merapok, Lawas

Vanajah's talk was held at the SMK Merapok, Lawas. The audience consists of secondary school students, schoolteachers, educators and government personnel. She gave a presentation about the selection process of the Angkaswan programme. The students and audience were thrilled to hear about her experience throughout the programme especially on her spaceflight medical evaluation in Russia. Indeed it was an amazing feat for a woman to be one of Malaysia's top 4 astronaut candidates of the space programme. Her stories not only inspired them to reach for their dreams but also gave them a sense of belief that anything is possible with hard work and dedication.

The audience

Vanajah explaining about the space programme

It was a great weekend in Lawas, and Vanajah Siva we salute you...