A healthy space

Malaysia’s first Angka­sawan now has his sights on keep­ing chil­dren healthy.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Science - By N. RAMA LO­HAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

AN in­ter­est in sci­ence can lead peo­ple down many al­ley­ways of ca­reer choice: med­i­cal, en­gi­neer­ing, sports, etc. But Datuk Dr Sheikh Musza­phar Shukor shot straight for the stars. While he didn’t get there, he cer­tainly got to a place few of us could only dream of.

Well, Sheikh dreamed big, and got to live it too when he was se­lected to be on­board the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion in 2007. He had the chance to look down at us and re­alise, it’s a small world af­ter all. (And to bust a myth, the Great Wall of China is not vis­i­ble from space with­out a view­ing ap­pa­ra­tus, and nei­ther is KLCC.)

Dr Sheikh Musza­phar al­ways knew he would re­alise his am­bi­tions be­cause he was driven from the start, and get­ting a leg up with a dad who fed his in­ter­est in sci­ence, space and as­tron­omy cer­tainly helped.

“Dad bought me books, a tele­scope and all that stuff, so I was very into it from a young age,” said the Star Trek and Star Wars fan.

In­grained in him since he grew up around five sib­lings was a reg­i­ment that in­cluded a va­ri­ety of sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

“I was one of six boys, and three of us were nat­u­ral swim­mers. Dad al­ways main­tained that we lead a healthy lifestyle,” said the as­tro­naut, who rep­re­sented his home state Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan in swim­ming meets when he was 10 years old.

Dr Sheikh Musza­phar’s ac­tive ways of scuba div­ing, horse rid­ing and bungee jump­ing clearly put him in good stead to be­come Malaysia’s first Angka­sawan from a pool of 11,435 con­tes­tants. On­board the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, he was tasked with con­duct­ing a se­ries of ex­per­i­ments – the growth of liver and leukaemia cells, and the crys­talli­sa­tion of var­i­ous pro­teins and mi­crobes in the weight­less­ness of space, the knowl­edge gleaned duly ap­plied for the ben­e­fit of med­i­cal sci­ence.

“The main thing for me there was con­duct­ing ex­per­i­ments and sci­en­tific re­search, which in­volve can­cer cells. And the re­sults have since been pub­lished through Univer­siti Ke­bangsaan Malaysia,” said the orthopaedic sur­geon, in­ti­mat­ing that he has left his med­i­cal prac­tice be­hind to con­cen­trate on re­search work at UKM’s Space Sci­ence Cen­tre and giv­ing talks around the world on his ex­pe­ri­ence.

Space might re­main the next fron­tier for mankind, but Dr Sheikh Musza­phar says there’s still plenty to be done on Earth yet.

“Since com­ing back, I’ve been more fo­cused on global is­sues, like pol­lu­tion, world hunger and chil­dren dy­ing from dis­eases,” said the 45-year-old, who is fa­ther to two daugh­ters.

The man of sci­ence, now Ap­peton brand am­bas­sador pro­mot­ing its A-Z Vi­ta­min C cam­paign, places great em­pha­sis on chil­dren be­ing healthy and happy.

“As a doc­tor, this is what I want for the kids ... to stay healthy. Vi­ta­min C boosts the im­mune sys­tem, and with my kids tak­ing it, they rarely fall sick,” said the for­mer school de­bater.

His heart has al­ways been with kids. In fact, part of his fu­ture plan in­cludes a de­sire to work in Africa to help chil­dren there lead healthy and ful­fill­ing lives.

“I have fo­cused on chil­dren all my life. I feel they need to be guided in the right di­rec­tion. I hope they will have strong men­tal and phys­i­cal abil­i­ties to help them in life.”

What truly tops his list of fu­ture pur­suits though, is earn­ing the right to fly: “I want to be­come a pi­lot. I am still try­ing to find time to get my com­mer­cial pi­lot li­cence,” he con­cluded.

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