Literally, as a Malaysian angkasawan, a Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, sometime model, flew aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft with a Russian and an American on board to the International Space Station on 10 Oct 2007.
The fare for this single return trip? A reportedly $24M (that's US$, I think). This was the deal that Malaysia made with Russia to take a space tourist, err...its first angkasawan, to outer space. His most significant space experiment to date is to fast (it is still Ramadan) and eat ethnic Malay food (sans Durians) on board a spacecraft. But of course he has more serious experiments to conduct during the 9 days he will be on board the ISS. Details of these experiments have yet to be reported.
Well, Malaysians should be proud of the occasion. Many nations would have wanted to join the outer space club. Malaysia has done it. But last heard, traveling into space is going to be a common thing. Already, the following five tourists have flown to and from the International Space Station on Soyuz spacecraft*:
- Dennis Tito (American): April 28 - May 6, 2001
- Mark Shuttleworth (South African / British): April 25 - May 5, 2002
- Gregory Olsen (American): October 1 - October 11, 2005
- Anousheh Ansari (Iranian / American): September 18 - September 29, 2006
- Charles Simonyi (Hungarian / American): April 7 - April 21, 2007
That's almost like extorting money from the poor Malaysians for a brief moment in the Sun. It goes beyond asking whether it is worth it. It begs the question whether it is at all meaningful. It would be, if the space programme in Malaysia can develop on its own steam in the long run. But if the effort is like the bumiputra policy, which is entirely within the control of the government and has been around for over 30 years and is still not considered completed, then its space programme would not amount to much in any meaningful timeframe either. Another example is Malaysia's troubled national car project.
If this analysis is correct, then Malaysia's latest space adventure is a real waste of money, not just $24M of it. Saddled with Russian aircraft, it will have to pay Russia millions more to maintain them over the life of these aircraft - say 20 years? I wonder if Malaysia has stepped into space or into a black hole?
* Source: wikipaedia