(AFP) – Sep 18, 2007
STAR CITY, Russia (AFP) — The two candidates to become Malaysia's first man in space underwent final exams on Tuesday before one is selected to blast off on October 10 to the International Space Station (ISS).
"I'm very sure of the training given me and I'm ready," Faiz Khaleed, one of the two candidates, told journalists at Russia's Star City training centre outside Moscow.
"It's been a wonderful and interesting experience to train here with professional cosmonauts," he said before entering a mock-up of the Soyuz rocket that will head to the ISS from Russia's Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan.
"This is new for our country. I hope I can share the experience with them," he said.
Khaleed, a 27-year-old army dentist, and Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a 35-year-old doctor and part-time model, were undergoing the second of two days of tests to ensure they are fully ready for their 11-day mission.
One of the two will be selected to travel to the ISS alongside Russian Yury Malenchenko and American Peggy Whitson, spending about nine days there before returning to Earth with the station's current crew.
Assuming both pass their tests, a final decision on which one to send will probably be announced this week, a Malaysian diplomat said.
Muszaphar was earlier declared the number one candidate but their chances are now considered equal, the diplomat told AFP.
The project was conceived in 2003 when Russia agreed to send a Malaysian to the ISS as part of Malaysia's billion-dollar (euro) purchase of 18 Sukhoi 30-MKM fighter jets.
Russia has taken a series of "space tourists" to the ISS, most of them private businesspeople who have typically paid about 20 million dollars (14 million euros) for the ride.
The two Malaysians have spent about a year training at Star City, including studying Russian.
On Monday, they were tested on their response to a hypothetical fire aboard the ISS, while on Tuesday they were to face potential emergencies such as a failure of the Soyuz's autopilot, a Star City spokesman, Yury Grigiroyev, told AFP.
Asked how he would cope with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began last week, Khaleed said only that the problem had been "solved."
The deputy head of the training centre, Valery Korzyn, voiced satisfaction with both candidates.
He added that the two were eating Russian food with gusto and had enjoyed the cold Russian climate, particularly skiing in the nearby forests.
"Both of them have had very good preparation and training and there is no problem," he told journalists. "They're studious, friendly, communicative people ... We're very pleased they're going."
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