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Soyuz spacecraft takes first Malaysian into space

A Soyuz spacecraft has blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, taking Malaysia's first cosmonaut into space. Sheikh Muzaphar Shukor joins two professional space crew on the 16th mission to the ISS. Dr Shukor will spend 11 days in orbit,

Thirty-five-year-old Shukor says he was inspired by the example of Russian space legend Yury Gagarin.

Seconds before take-off on his first space flight, Yury Gagarin's uttered the famous words – “Let's go”.  Sheikh Muzaphar Shukor hopes to be just like him.

“That was a very special statement made by Yury Gagarin, when he says: ‘Poyekhali’.  And I hope to say Malaysian: ‘Gamelan’,” he said.

Shukor was selected out of 11,000 to fly to the ISS in a deal agreed between Malaysia and Russia.

He had to undergo a whole year of training, tests and examinations to get ready for the flight but Shukor won't be just another space tourist.

He will step aboard the Soyuz spacecraft as part of a scientific programme, where he will carry out medical experiments. He'll spend 11 days in space.

Above all, Shukor is to become the 9th Muslim in space and sees his trip as an opportunity to get closer to God.

“Being a Muslim and going into space is a big responsibility for me, not only for the Malaysian people but for Muslims all over the world and to be close to God's creation. I will feel more spiritually and I do hope to come back and share all my experiences to all the Muslim people all over the world,” Sheikh Muzaphar Shukor explained.

The Director General of the National Space Agency of Malaysia, Dr Mazlan Othman, spoke to RT from Kuala Lumpur about the mission.  She said Dr Shukor's journey to the ISS would be closely watched by Malaysians.  She said it was making them aware that their country had a space programme and a special space centre.

She added that the space flight will become an inspiration for Malaysian society, especially for the younger generation.

The Soyuz crew: Sheikh Muzaphar Shukor,  
                          Yury Malenchenko, Peggy Whitson
The Soyuz crew: Sheikh Muzaphar Shukor, Yury Malenchenko, Peggy Whitson

The Malaysian ‘angasawan’ will be joined on the 16th expedition by the Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko and the U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson.

Malenchenko is one of Russia's most experienced cosmonauts with four space voyages to his name.

In 2003, he became the first person to get married in space. His wedding was carried out via satellite link from the ISS to Texas where his bride said 'I do'.

Malenchenko will be the commander of the Soyuz and after docking on the ISS he will hand the controls over to the experienced NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who will become the first woman to command the space station.

Before the flight she was presented with a traditional Kazakh horse-whip, a symbol of a commander's authority on board. But Whitson hopes she would never have to use it on her male colleagues in space.