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KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 — It has been 10 years but Awang Shahrizan Awang Abu Bakar has not given up hopes of going to space.
The Malaysian Angkasawan Programme member who is the nation’s backup astronaut has been waiting and training for when he will be able to go on the space journey.
Having trained for two years in different parts of the world, for Awang, the training is never over.
“As part of the astronaut team, the training is ongoing because it’s important to understand that we could get a call at any time. Someone can just come to our door and pick us up.
“So, it’s important for us to stay ready at all times,” Awang told Malay Mail.
Awang fills his time with sports such as badminton, football or sepak takraw as it is important to stay fit.
During Ramadan, he normally goes for a jog to break a sweat.
While waiting to be called up, Awang currently manages his own information technology company, Siasitok that is working on developing learning technology for sign language for the deaf and mute community in Malaysia.
Another important thing for an astronaut is to prepare mentally.
“Our mental and physical state needs to be balanced, because in our line of work, we need to be able to work under pressure.
“For example when you’re in the International Space Station (ISS), there’s no one else there to guide or help you out and you still need to carry out the orders given to you with a stable mindset,” he said.
The Angkasawan Programme was an initiative by the Science and Technology Ministry that sent Malaysia’s first astronaut, Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor to the ISS on board the Soyuz TMA-11 on October 10, 2007.
According to Awang, astronaut training was mostly focused on the journey from earth to space as they would have to prepare themselves to break through the earth’s atmosphere.
“The pressure when ascending to space is 10 times of our current weight.
“All that pressure will go to your chest and that’s when the training comes into play because if you don’t know the technique you could faint. In certain cases, it could prove fatal as the pressure could break through your rib cage,” he said.
The actual flight time from earth to space only takes approximately eight minutes but according to Awang, the tricky part was to catch up to the ISS for docking which could take up to two days.
This is because the shuttle needs to be perfectly aligned with the ISS for docking as the ISS is constantly moving around the earth.
“So, once we board the ISS, we still need to do our missions.
“For the next odyssey, it will be a 30-day mission and our mission consists of daily experiments that we’ve compiled beforehand.
“The ISS can circle around earth up to 90 times per day. Imagine how many sunsets and sunrises they would get to see.
“As I myself have a background in photography, it’s one of the reasons why I was chosen for the programme,” Awang said, adding that it was important to have pictures and videos for documentation purposes.
Even though it was never his dream to become an astronaut, Awang was still grateful for the opportunity as he sees this as his duty to the country and to the people to present them with accurate information that could shape future generations.
“For me, what the government has given to me, I need to give back to the people.
“The actual truth this time instead of half-baked ones. For example, you might have heard that astronauts cannot have scars. How can that be when one of our own astronauts, Faiz Khaleed has scars from his past operation?
“To say that astronauts cannot have scars is simply not true, even our pimples are considered as scars too.
“Another example is we tend to get taller when in space. Yes, that’s true but the effect will only be shown after at least after a month in space.
“After a month, our bones stretch out, but it could only stretch out up to three centimetres. These are all facts,” Awang said.
Awang said that there should be more awareness on space programmes adding that knowledge and education were important for growth of a nation.
“For me, there’s still a lot for us Malaysian to learn and there’s even more to teach to our next generation.
“The generation will be doing the exploration because truthfully, now at this stage, we are just beginning.
“Moving forward, we don’t know what the future holds, and this is why it’s important to start educating them on space knowledge from now,” Awang said.