'Malaysian Gagarin' eyes return to space

Other News Materials 24 October 2007 06:10 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - Malaysia's first ever astronaut is already thinking of a return trip to space, two days after the end of his historic mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

"It was too short, only 12 days. I dream of staying much longer," Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor told journalists Tuesday on his return to Moscow from the landing site in Kazakhstan.

"I hope to come back and be fit for a six month" trip, he said during the briefing at the Star City space training centre on the outskirts of the Russian capital. "Who knows I might be the commander of the ISS one day."

A 35-year-old doctor and part-time model, Muszaphar returned to Earth with two Russian cosmonauts on Sunday.

The three touched down safely in Kazakhstan but 200 kilometres ( 120 miles) off-target in a rare and unexplained 'ballistic landing' by the Soyuz craft.

"It was very hot. We were turning upside down. It was going very fast but I feel very good now," he said.

"I feel great and I don't have any defect whatsoever."

Muszaphar was chosen from thousands of hopefuls in a nationwide competition that generated tremendous excitement in Malaysia.

The Malaysian government has until the end of 2009 to decide if it wants to accept an offer from the Russian Space Agency for another Malaysian to journey to the ISS in late 2010 or early 2011, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak was quoted as saying on Monday.

Malaysian leaders see the space flight as a milestone for the country which is marking a half-century of independence from British colonial rule.

"I do hope to be the Malaysian Gagarin, to inspire all the Malaysian people, especially the school children and the younger generation," Muszaphar said in a reference to Russia's Yury Gagarin, the first man in space.

The Malaysian astronaut trained for over a year at Star City before he left for the mission on October 10 with American Peggy Whitson, the new commander on the ISS, and a Russian Yury Malenchenko.

Muszaphar, a practising Muslim, celebrated the end of the holy month of Ramadan at the space station and carried out experiments for Malaysia's Genome Institute.