Malay Tamil woman to be astronaut
S Vanajah is the only woman to be chosen for Malaysia's upcoming astronaut training programme.india Updated: Mar 16, 2006 10:57 IST
S Vanajah, a Malaysian Tamil, is the only woman among four people short-listed for her country's maiden astronaut training programme.
Selected from 11,000 applicants, a rigorous training session in Russia awaits Vanajah. "I have made it this far and I have the mental and physical strength to pull through more stringent tests in Russia," said Vanajah, 35, a quality engineer at Malaysia's National Space Agency.
She hopes to be further short-listed as one of the two Malaysian astronauts who will undergo advanced training at Russia's Star City. One of these two astronauts will finally be selected to join a Russian mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in October 2007.
Vanajah, who is unmarried and describes her father as her "greatest supporter", said she learnt Monday about being short-listed for the programme. "I was stunned. I then took hold of myself and was proud to have made it this far."
Asked how the astronaut training programme had changed her life, she said: "I get so many people, especially women of all races and religions, coming up to me and telling me they are praying for me."
The three other people short-listed with Vanajah are Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a dentist and part-time model, Faiz Khaleed and pilot Mohammed Faiz Kamaluddin.
Their selection was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who said they had been chosen after a battery of mental and physical tests.
"We adopted a very scientific and objective approach in selecting the astronauts, because the one person who will finally represent the country should be better than the others," he said at the Royal Malaysia Air Force base in Subang.
Asked about being the only woman in the programme, Vanajah said: "For the first time in my life, I see gender equality. Both men and women go through the same mental and physical tests."
She said she had first developed an interest in astronomy at the age of 10. "I often looked up at nights to study the pattern of the stars and wondered how I could go there to learn more about them."
Malaysia's space programme is on a route similar to that of India, in that Rakesh Sharma of the Indian Air Force was part of a joint Indo-Russian space mission in 1984.
But Malaysia's astronaut training programme, costing 92.9 million ringgit, is to be offset as part of the 3.34-billion ringgit defence deal to buy 18 Sukhoi 30MKN fighter jets from Russia.
Deputy Prime Minister Razak said the Russian government had offered a place for a Malaysian on the Russian expedition to ISS in October in return for the defence purchase.
"That candidate will be representing Malaysia," he said.