Observing Ramadan

 

As a Muslim, Sheikh Muszaphar will face some unusual problems observing religious rituals during the holy month of Ramadan.

 

At the speed the space station travels, orbiting the Earth 16 times every 24 hours, Sheikh Muszaphar would have been obliged to pray more than 80 times a day.

 

To overcome that problem, Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development drafted a set of guidelines on how to perform religious rites in space.

 

The guidelines allow the astronaut to pray only five times a day and that the times should follow the location of the spacecraft's launch.

 

"I hope to be the eyes and the ears of all the Malaysian people"

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor

Malaysian clerics have also clarified rules on the direction for prayers, which must usually face the direction of Mecca - a difficult position to maintain in zero gravity.

 

As one of only a handful of Muslims to have travelled to space, Sheikh Muszaphar said he will try to observe the fasting rules of Ramadan and share his experiences with other Muslims when he returns.

 

He is taking vacuum-packed Malaysian food, including skewered chicken, banana rolls, fermented soybean cakes and ginger jelly, to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, aboard the space station.

 

Milestone

 

Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development
has drafted special guidelines for the trip
After lifting off from the Baikonur cosmodrome, the Malaysian is due to spend 12 days aboard the ISS before returning to Earth.

 

He will be accompanied by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and US astronaut Peggy Whitson on the trip.

 

Sheikh Muszaphar, who is a trained doctor, will conduct scientific experiments with microbes of tropical diseases and with proteins for a potential HIV vaccine.

 

He will also study the effects of microgravity and space radiation on cancer cells and human genes.

 

"Going to space is a small step for me, but it's definitely a giant leap for all the Malaysian people," he told reporters at Baikonur.

 

"I hope to be the eyes and the ears of all the Malaysian people and come back and share all my experiences."

 

Malaysian officials have described the mission as a milestone for the country which this year celebrates its 50th year of independence.

 

"I am very happy that our man has been chosen to join this special mission into space," Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Malaysian prime minister, said. "I hope he will do well."

 

Sheikh Muszaphar's journey is believed to have a price tag of about $30m – based on the amount paid by previous space tourists - but in reality it is not costing Malaysia anything.

 

The trip was added by Moscow as a sweetener as part of a billion-dollar purchase of 18 Russian Sukhoi fighter jets.