RECENTLY, our first astronaut made the news again, “Angkasawan admits accepting contributions, denies demanding payment,” (The Star, Nov 17).
Firstly, if it is true that Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor Sheikh Mustapha did accept payment, I think he is justified in receiving it and in keeping every cent of it.
Secondly, I may be in the minority but my reservations in 2006 about the Government’s decision to send a Malaysian into space still holds. Malaysia may be a rich country compared to some of its neighbours, but it can ill-afford spending several million ringgit for this purpose.
It was stated in 2006, by the Science, Technology and Innovations Ministry that sending a man into space would further motivate our school childrens’ interest in science and technology.
We do not need to send someone into space to motivate and interest our children in the sciences.
What we could and should have done was to spend the millions on our education system and policies.
When a child enters primary school, he should be introduced to the sciences in an engaging and lively manner.
He then sees how science plays an enormous part in our daily lives, on earth as well as in outer space.
Simultaneously, extra-curricular subjects could include astronomy activities led by teachers or volunteers from knowledgeable parents or the general public.
Then, with access to high powered binoculars or telescopes, they can organise supervised viewing of the night sky to look at the various constellations.
At secondary school and university level, students should be encouraged to read sciences or science/engineering-based courses rather than doing the so-called soft subjects.
Thus the Education Ministry must set aside an enhanced and dedicated budget, supplemented by money that could have been sidelined from the space programme.
In 2006 it was touted that the space training programme would not cost the Treasury a single sen. Furthermore, the programme was provided free of charge as part of an offset programme for the purchase pf Sukhoi fighter aircraft from Russia.
It is naive for the Government to think that there is such a thing as a free lunch.
Everything has its strings and conditions and it is obvious that the purchase of the fighter jets is revealing as it is contentious.
It might have been a cheaper option to send a Malaysian as a space tourist than be tied down by agreements which form part of a defence contract.
Dr Sheikh Muszaphar has fulfilled his obligations in going to space.
He has undergone countless psychometric tests, rigorous physical training and been subjected to G-forces that most of us wouldn’t even dare think of and fewer still would want to endure.
He has put Malaysia on the map and continues to spread the interest in space to our schoolchildren.
And why should he not reap the benefits of his expertise and experience?
He has spotted a niche in the market. He satisfies the need of those who hunger for his exploits in space.
He is enlightening the minds of our children and youth to the limitless horizon of the universe and the competitive and exciting world of space exploration.
If other Nasa astronauts have travelled the earth to give similar lectures, who are we to deny him the same? I wish him good luck and may he inspire more of us in the study of the cosmos.
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