Malaysia's Muslim Astronaut Needn't Fast in Space During Ramadan, Says Minister

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

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AP) – Malaysia's first astronaut willnot be required to fast while in space even though he is a Muslim and theflight will be during Ramadan, a government minister said Monday.

"When you travel there is no compulsion to fast,"Science Minister Jamaluddin Jarjis told reporters.

SheikhMuszaphar Shukor, 35, is one of three people who will lift off in a Russianspace craft on Oct.10 for a 10-day mission in the International Space Station. He has saidthat as a goodMuslim he hopes to fast in space even though his main priority is toconduct scientific experiments.

But Jamaluddin said Sheikh Muszaphar, who has been fastingduring training along with his backup Faiz Khaleed, can postpone the fastinguntil after he returns.

The fasting month of Ramadan started on Sept. 13 and isexpected to end on Oct. 12, which means Sheikh Muszaphar will have to fast foronly two or three days if he insists on not eating from dawn to dusk, anIslamic religious requirement.

Jamaluddin also said he expects Sheikh Muszaphar to prayonly three times a day instead of the obligatory five to reduce theinconvenience of going through prayer rituals in the gravity-free atmosphere.

Observant Muslims are required to turn toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and pray five times a day while kneeling. However that becomesdifficult in zero gravity while the space station is circling the Earth 16times a day.

Malaysia's National Fatwa Council has ruled that theastronaut will not be required to kneel to pray if the absence of gravity makesit too hard, nor will he have to wash hands and face with water as required – asimple wet towel will do.

Jamaluddin said Malaysia is hoping to send a secondastronaut into space, depending on public support for the first mission. Hesaid the second mission would cost US$30 million (euro21.5 million), but thelong term benefits would be worth it.

"If there is good strong public support we shouldcontinue the mission to sustain the awareness. We should look not only on shortterm return but also medium to long term."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi wishedSheikh Muszaphar success.

"I pray that this mission will proceed according toplan, safely and successfully," he said.

Sheikh Muszaphar will return to earth Oct. 20 along with twomembers of the station's current crew, cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and OlegKotov.

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