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Malaysia's space cadets depart for Russia
KUALA LUMPUR, April 28 (AFP) Apr 28, 2006
Malaysia's four budding astronauts have departed for Russia where they will undergo a series of tests to select who will blast off into space as the country's first astronaut.

The four, who were chosen in a nationwide competition, departed late Thursday for the Russian Space Agency where they will go through their paces over the next two weeks.

"We know that this is not a game or a vacation. We will make Malaysians proud and we will do our best and everybody has equal chances," said one of the candidates, Sheikh Muszaphar, according to the official Bernama news agency.

The only woman candidate, S. Vanajah, said the language barrier could be an issue during the testing and evaluation period, after which Russia will select one astronaut and a back-up candidate.

"I also think that we might be having communication problems at the beginning but I think we would overcome it as we have learnt the language here," she said.

The two chosen will spend 18 months in training, before venturing into space in October 2007 as part of a scientific mission aboard the International Space Station.

The agreement to send the Malaysians aboard Russian spacecraft was part of a billion-dollar deal in which Russia will sell Malaysia 18 Sukhoi 30-MKM fighter jets.

At a conference in the Malaysian capital this week, Muslim scholars and scientists urged other Muslim nations to embark on space programs to boost their international standing and inspire their people.

They also pondered how Muslim astronauts would pray in space, in the face of difficulties locating Mecca and holding the prayer position in a zero-gravity environment. Three of the candidates from multi-ethnic Malaysia are Muslim.

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