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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 October 2007, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Malaysia astronaut set to launch
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor at a news conference on 9 October 2007
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor says he wants to inspire Malaysians
Malaysia's first astronaut is set to blast off for a voyage to the International Space Station (ISS).

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor will lift off from the Baikonur site cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, together with one Russian and one US astronaut.

He will spend nine days on the space station before returning to Earth with the outgoing crew.

The launch has been eagerly anticipated in Malaysia, where it has been hailed as a landmark for the Asian nation.

The Malaysian astronaut will fly in a Russian Soyuz rocket with American Peggy Whitson, the space station's new commander, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.

Ms Whitson and Mr Malenchenko will remain on the station for six months, replacing two astronauts with whom Mr Shukor will return.

Ramadan rules

The 35-year-old doctor will conduct a series of scientific experiments while in space.

His visit to the station was agreed as part of Malaysia's billion-dollar purchase of Russian-made jets.

He described his mission as a "giant leap" for all Malaysians, and said he hoped to inspire his countrymen.

Mr Shukor will be the first Muslim to fly in space during the holy month of Ramadan and will be there for the Eid festival, when he will treat his crewmates to a celebratory meal.

For the rest of the time he will try and observe the dawn-to-dusk fasting rules of Ramadan.

Muslim clerics in Malaysia have prepared special guidelines for him on observing religious rules while on the ISS.

He will use a wet towel rather than water to clean himself before praying, and is not obliged to kneel in zero gravity or face Mecca while praying.

To avoid confusion about when to pray, Mr Shukor will follow the time at the launch site in Kazakhstan.

He is not the first Muslim in space - but the BBC's Andrew Harding in Bangkok says it appears that those before him have been left to work out their religious practices on their own.

Final preparations for blast off in Kazakhstan

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