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