Malaysian Public to Vote for Nation's First Astronaut

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP)_ Malaysia will set up a Web site for the public to track the selection processfor the country's first astronaut, and to vote for the candidate they think ismost suitable, a report said Wednesday.

Science, Technology andInnovations Minister Jamaluddin Jarjis said the government wants citizens to beinvolved in the selection process, and not just watch from the sidelines as historyis made, The Star newspaper reported.

Afterrigorous physical and psychological tests, 200 aspirants have been shortlisted,up to 10 of whom will be sent to Russia for the final test to select two futureastronauts. But only one will go into space in 2007 as part of a scientificmission on Russia's International Space Station.

"We want the people to havetheir say. When we have whittled the candidates down to the final group, wewill put their names, backgrounds, test records and progress on a Web site,''the newspaper quoted Jamaluddin as saying.

He said the public can thensay who they think is the most deserving candidate and vote for him or herthrough mobile phone text messages.

He did not say if the voteswould have a bearing on the decision of the panel selecting the astronauts. Butan official of the National Space Agency, speaking on condition of anonymity onWednesday, said this was unlikely.

Jamaluddin did not say whenthe Web site would be established.

The National Space Agencyhas said that aside from being physically and psychologically fit, Malaysia'sfirst astronaut must be able to relate to the people and serve as aninspiration to the country's youth.

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