( News.com.au ) - MALAYSIA'S first astronaut will throw an Eid party in space in between research activities during his 11-day journey which took off last night.
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor , an orthopaedic surgeon, blasted off for the International Space Station (ISS) from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 10.21pm AEST, making him the first Muslim to fly into space during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Eid , which marks the end of the Ramadan, falls on Saturday in Malaysia.
Space fever has gripped the South-East Asian nation, with millions of Malaysians watching the blast-off live on three of the country's television networks.
The 35-year-old Shukor had taken along some Malaysian satay , as well as biscuits to hand out to others on board the space station on Saturday, the Star newspaper said.
Other Malaysian papers splashed the astronaut story on their front pages, with some publishing supplements detailing how Shukor would pray in space, following procedures spelt out in a guidebook for Islamic astronauts issued by the Government.
Shukor said he would also fast in space, even though clerics said he could delay it.
"I am not sure how it would be done, but I will share my experiences (with) all the Muslims all over the world when I get back," he said in his web journal.
"After all, Islam is a way of life and I am quite sure I would not face much difficulties ."
A bachelor who has become a national heart-throb, Shukor will not be the first Muslim in space - Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman joined the crew of the shuttle Discovery in 1985, and there have been several others since.
Still, the mission initially presented a dilemma about fulfilling religious duties such as fasting, kneeling for prayers in zero gravity or facing Mecca to pray.
After all, praying five times daily on a craft that goes around Earth 16 times a day would have meant praying 80 times in 24 hours.
Also, it is virtually impossible to face Mecca continuously in a craft travelling at such high speed.
Muslims are required to wash their hands, feet, face and hair before prayers - a luxury on the Soyuz where water is so precious that even sweat and urine are recycled.
To get around these problems, 150 Malaysian scholars, scientists, and astronauts brainstormed and published the booklet of guidelines for Muslim astronauts.
If he follows the guidelines, Shukor can forgo fasting in space, and make up for it when he returns to Earth.
He can pray three times a day instead of five, facing any direction, and he can do so without the ritual washing.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi cancelled earlier plans for a trip to Baikonur and instead followed events on a giant television screen in the Malaysian capital.
Shukor was selected from 11,000 Malaysian candidates in a deal the Government arranged with Russia as part of a $US1 billion ($1.1bn) purchase of Russian jets.
The astronaut program was conceived by Abdullah's predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad , who ruled Malaysia for 22 years until 2003.
The space program aimed to motivate Malaysia's youth, Science Minister Jamaluddin Jarjis said.
"We needed something to inspire our future generations, a generation that is not content with tapping rubber or working in factories," he said in the New Straits Times newspaper.
Shukor is flying with the new ISS crew commander, US astronaut Peggy Whitson, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko .
They will work for half a year in orbit while he will return with the outgoing ISS crew after 11 days in space.