Friday, November 7, 2008

Reaching the moon without a rocket?

A year has passed since Sheikh Muszaphar became the first Malaysian in space. Are we closer to have a space station or requirements to build a rocket? This article was written a few weeks before 'the flying Sheikh' shot into space.

On the 9th Ramadan, my motorbike broke down three times. It was a test for me, a real Ramadan test. On seeing me for the third time, the friendly Chinese mechanic cum owner of the repair shop, said: "Aiyahhh, what's your bike (registration) number ahh, sure 'kena punya' (will win the four digit sports toto lottery).

On the first visit, he who was cordial and had a big mouth, commented on the government's Auditor General's Report: "Hey brother, didn't you know that a project that costs RM3,000 is being claimed RM30,000 - ten times the actual price."

I didn't say anything. He continued: "If everybody from that party wanted to be 'kaya' (rich), then the people will suffer. Look at this battery (he showed me the small motorcycle battery), its costs me RM35, how could I sell it at a lower price. Every customer claims, 'barang ganti mahal, kejap-kejap naik harga' (spare parts too expensive, their prices always on the rise), but what to do?"

I was still quiet, so he mumbled: "I sure pilih Roket pilihan raya nanti (will give my vote to the Rocket –DAP - in the next election. I too support the moon party (PAS), but there's trouble between them (PAS and DAP)."

"Look here, brother," he said. "How could PAS reach the moon (come into power) without using the rocket. PAS must use the rocket (DAP), only then it will reach the moon!"

I was speechless. The Chinese mechanic had his point. That was his view. He may be wrong, but in a 'democratic country', everybody has his/her right to say whatever one feels as long as it is not against the constitution.

For several days, I kept on thinking about that argument. How could one reach the moon without using a rocket, without owning one? How could PAS be in power (at the Federal level) without the support of the DAP?

PAS could wrest power in the Malay belt states such as Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis but what about the other states? PAS doesn't have a rocket, so it almost impossible for it to reach the moon!

While pondering over the idea, another development in the country caught my attention. It was about the first Malaysian astronaut. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, 36, would be the first Malaysian and Muslim male in space when he, Russia's Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Yuri Mallenchenko and flight engineer and Soyuz commander Peggy Whitson, blast off to the space station (ISS) on 10th October.

Congratulations to Sheikh Muszaphar and his colleague, Faiz Khaleed, 26, who was picked up as the back-up astronaut. Never mind, some might belittle Sheikh Muszaphar saying he was just a spacecraft participant or a space tourist or liken him to a spacecraft passenger, but his journey is a big leap for ordinary Malaysians like me.

When I was a little boy, I dreamt to be the next Yuri (Alekseyevich) Gagarin (1934-1968), the first man in space. On that fateful day (April 12, 1961), Gagarin became the first man to orbit Earth. The name of his spacecraft was Vostok 1.

It was only in 1972, when I was in Standard Four did I read the story about Yuri Gagarin. That book, which was written in a jovial manner, contains a few surprises which awaited Gagarin while he was in space. Vostok 1 circled Earth at a speed of 27, 400 kilometers per hour and the flight lasted 108 minutes.

Some important notes stated that Vostok 1 had two sections. One section was for Gagarin. The second section was for supplies needed for Gagarin to live such as oxygen and water. Gagarin did not land inside of Vostok 1. He ejected from the spacecraft and landed by parachute.

Prior to Gagarin's mission, the Russians had sent several spacecraft into space. They even sent dogs for experimental purposes. For example a dog named Laika was on board Sputnik 2 when it blasted into space on November 3, 1957 from Kazakhstan.

Eight years after Gagarin's mission, the US spacecraft, Apollo 11 landed on the moon with its astronaut, Neil Armstrong lauded as the first man on moon.

I remember that in my enthusiasm to be the 'next' Yuri Gagarin, I built a sort of lab behind my family chicken pen. There I built a 'rocket', then lighted the furnace, - the 'spacecraft' didn't move an inch but the hut nearly caught fire!

So to have a Malaysian in space, it is a dream becoming so close to reality. Sheikh Muszaphar's journey would fulfill my dream. So once again, congratulations to him, to all Malaysians and the Malaysian government which was said to have spent some RM95 million to send the first Malaysian into space. That project was part of a deal for the purchasing of Russia's 18 Sukhoi 30-MKM fighter jets, amounting to billions of ringgit.

The more I think about these events and what the mechanic had said I sensed some similarities in them. I had no rocket but my dream was being fulfilled by Sheikh Muszaphar's journey.

PAS has no rocket, but it is aiming to reach the moon. Malaysians too have no rocket but somehow, one of them would be in space! So it implies that, without the rocket too, PAS could, 'insya-Allah' (God willing) reach the moon. That is only a suggestion, others might have different views.

In my opinion, if Malaysians and the government were serious in making its space project successful, it should start off from ‘the ground' and not from 'outer space'. Yes, Sheikh Muszaphar would be in space, but what after that?

The Russians and Americans developed their space technology before they sent men and women into space including landing on the moon. NASA carried test after test, and remember one of their spacecraft, the Challenger exploded during blast off, killing several cosmonauts. The Russians too built their reputation in the space industry over the years and not in just one shot!

The Chinese and Japanese too developed their own space industry. Several Japanese astronauts have traveled with their NASA counterparts. All these countries have their own space stations and of course their own space craft or rockets!

But we Malaysians, don't have one. We 'blasted' one of our men into space without having a rocket. Then we 'blasted' it in the news, in advertisements that finally we have an 'angkasawan' (astronaut) with the tag line 'Dreams Are Possible'.

Yes, all dreams all possible, but remember this so called 'projek angkawasan', is entirely on the peoples' money. It is the people's investment. We spent billions of ringgit on the deal, but to satisfy a few top brass and citizens?

If this was true, then why had the 'rakyat' to pay for the spaceman's journey? The ‘angkasawan' should pay for himself as done by previous space tourist such as Dennis Tito (from USA in 2001), Mark Shuttleworth (from South Africa-2002), Greg Olsen (USA-2005) and Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian Muslim who has resided in America. Each was said to have paid almost the same amount of money spent on Sheikh Muzaphar's journey (about RM80-RM100 million)!

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