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Malaysian Astronaut, Next ISS Crew Aim for Orbit

Malaysian Astronaut, Next ISS Crew Aim for Orbit
Malaysia's first astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor (left) and his backup Faiz Khaleed.
(Image: © Malaysian National Space Agency.)

WASHINGTON- Malaysia?s debut spaceflyer, the first female commander of InternationalSpace Station (ISS) and a veteran Russian cosmonaut are gearing up for theirorbital mission this fall.

Malaysianorthopedic surgeon Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, 34, is training for a planned Oct.10 launch towards the ISS with veteran NASAastronaut Peggy Whitson and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko to kick off the 16thexpedition to the orbital laboratory.

?It?sreally important to me to spur interest among all the Malaysian people,? Shukortold reporters during a Monday press briefing at NASA?s Johnson Space Center inHouston, Texas. ?But my focus has always been on schoolchildren.?

Chosenfrom a competitive field of 11,000, Shukor said he is proud to representMalaysia in space as its first astronaut, or ?angkasawan.?<

Whitson,the space station?s first female commander, and Malenchenko are both veteranISS flyers. Whitson flew in 2002 as an Expedition 5 flight engineer and NASA?sfirst ISS science officer, while Malenchenko commanded Expedition 7 in 2003.

?Itis going to be a very complicated and aggressive mission,? said Whitson, addingthat she hopes her role as commander will encourage young women to embracescience and mathematics. ?But I think I?ve got a great team.?

Busy mission ahead

Whitsonand Malenchenko will join the third member of their crew, NASA astronautClayton Anderson already aboard the ISS, for what is expected to be a packedflight of challenging station construction and crew swaps.

Inlate October, NASA plans to launch the shuttle Discovery?s STS-120 mission and deliver Harmony,a connecting node that will serve as the attachment point for futureinternational laboratories. Discovery will also ferry veteran NASAastronaut Daniel Tani to replace Anderson - who will return with theSTS-120 crew - as part of Expedition 16.

?It?sgoing to be an extremely exciting time, a sort of moment of growth for thespace station,? Tani said of Expedition 16.

AnotherISS crewmember, European Space Agency (ESA) spaceflyer Leopold Eyharts, is dueto replace Tani in December, when NASA hopes to launch the Atlantis orbiter andits STS-122 astronaut crew to deliver Europe?s Columbuslaboratory to the station.

NASAastronaut Garret Reisman, a first-time spaceflyer, is slated to round out theExpedition 16 crew in February 2008 during NASA?s STS-123 shuttle missionaboard Endeavour. That flight, slated for a Feb. 14 launch, will deliver thefirst component of a Japaneselaboratory to the ISS along with a Canadian-built robot for use with thestation?s robotic arm.

?Toparticipate and operate all this different hardware is going to be absolutelyphenomenal,? Reisman said of the new elements to be added to the ISS during hisflight. ?It?s going to be wonderful.?

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