Tuesday, August 30, 2005

To infinity and beyond? Malaysia's space dream


Malaysia aims to send an astronaut up to the International Space Station. Pardon me if I’m not shocked that the government would try to pull a stunt like this since projects of grandeur have always been an appealing feature in showing our Malaysia Boleh spirit. It may not even be surprising that Malaysia intends to send a Malaysian to the moon by 2020 even if America is the only one ever to do so and other nations with more developed space capabilities deem such a mission not on their top priority, but we are Malaysians and ‘Malaysia Boleh’ spirit is all we need right? Generally a mission to the moon is no longer looked upon as an achievement, scientists are rather focusing on the identifying the makeup of planets, finding life in other worlds, probing the far reaches of the galaxy, developing ever sophisticated instruments to study the heavens and understanding the nature of the universe better and we want to land on the moon? More like an ego trip.

I do not wish to demean all the hopefuls that tried out for the candidacy, I’m sure among the 854 candidates who are trying out to qualify there are those as fit and able as any other national out there to do so. But for RM25 million to send a single Malaysian on a one way trip to space could have been spent on more urgent and productive programmes in our country. Heck even a Russian millionaire can pay his way to have a joy ride up in zero G and he doesn’t look like he would’ve survive the 3.5 km run alive. Does the cost justify for such a project, at least for this juncture in time? We still have social problems we have not successfully tackled, AIDS cases are rising and money would be better spent in preventative measures, squatters are still prevalent and need resettling, etc. There is so many problems yet unsolved which we could have given priority.

It is important not to lag behind in technology and the sciences and Malaysia has made positive steps in that direction. Yet are we able to put another ambitious programme in our country even when those currently being developed such as the Multimedia Super Corridor and the BioValley Project are facing problems and growing pangs? It seems like we are diversifying into too many areas when we should be concentrating into fields which need more immediate attention. I don’t think we need another hero who’s only claim to fame is going into space, what we need is to build up a larger segment of society with skills and abilities to master such fields as quantum mechanics, genetics, computer design, engineering and biotechnology. Since none of the technology for space travel is going to be transferred to us in the deal what are we getting back in return for our investment? A joyride and space camp for one? Maybe even by then space is no longer an elite venture since the X-plane project has successfully shown travel in space in possible even for market consumption.

A better venture would have been to develop space flight and capability technologies as in investing more into aeronautics and flight engineering. Since we already have a facualty for such at UKM (recently shifted from UPM), it would be more profitable and in line with national aspirations to develop it into an industry since we have KLIA and was once quoted that it is capable for future use as a space port. This move would have benefited the nation more than sending an astronaut up to space. The French are doing well with the commercial satellite launching venture and this can be a model for cooperation in line with what the European Space Agency is doing.

On a lighter note I wonder what they’ll call the Malaysian astronaut since the Americans are astronauts, Russian Cosmonauts and lately China’s Taikonaut, Maybe we should call our own Bolehnaut since we have a claim that our people can do about anything. Pass around the teh tarik, roti canai, nasi lemak and durian to your compatriots in space later okay. Here’s to Malaysia’s First Astronaut Programme to the International Outer Space Station in 2007.

No comments: