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ISS and Beyond, SEUWG to Next Step: Discussions begin about future space exploration efforts of Asian countries

With his many years of experience in microgravity research, Mr. Mhd Fairos Asillam, the head of the Space Science Research Unit, Malaysia Space Center, National Space Agency of Malaysia (ANGKASA), Malaysia, co-chaired the Space Environment Utilization Working Group at APRSAF-21 in December 2014 in Tokyo. He was also a panelist for the Special Session in the Plenary (i.e., “Space Exploration ‘ISS and Beyond—Toward Global Space Exploration’”).

The APRSAF Secretariat had an opportunity during APRSAF-21 to interview Mr. Asillam regarding the working group activities thus far.

Secretariat

During these past four or five years, the status of microgravity research on the International Space Station (ISS) has changed considerably with the completion of the ISS. How would you describe the change during that period?

Fairos Asillam

Regarding the Space Environment Utilization Working Group, we have made good progress. For example, this year we introduced a new session on space exploration, which is a major milestone for the working group and for the APRSAF because we have focused on the utilization of Kibo (Japanese Experiment Module of the ISS). Additionally, we introduced a space medicine session this year, which is a direct application that is important for astronauts and also for people on earth. We also introduced another session about space exploration.

The reason for introducing the new session on space exploration is that we know that work at the ISS will be finished by 2024, so we should start thinking about what is next, what happens after 2024.

There are many initiatives. We will discuss them during APRSAF-21. One possibility is a new station, which may be located close to the moon or Mars; we are not sure about that. However, I can say that we are starting to establish important milestones, which is why we have introduced the new exploration, what’s next after ISS.

So, that is it for the Working Group. For the country, there were no direct activities before 2010, when we introduced Space Seeds for Asian Future (SSAF). This program was conducted in eight countries, so many people—including students from 40 to 50 schools in Malaysia—participated in this program. People are starting to talk about Space Seeds. Because of the children participating in this program, parents and families have become aware of the importance of space. Thus, we continue to involve more people so that they will, at least, recognize the importance of space. SSAF is for primary and secondary schools.

The Working Group also introduced parabolic flights, which mainly target tertiary and university students. So, the program is in a very good place with its entry into primary schools, secondary schools, and tertiary school. Additionally, we have an R&D program for professionals.

I think that, at least from Malaysia’s viewpoint, awareness of microgravity has increased thanks to the APRSAF programs. Furthermore, these programs also support local activities, which have increased tremendously. Additionally, support from the public has increased. Now, with Space Seeds for education and parabolic flight, people have started asking about a new program.

Secretariat

Did the Malaysian astronaut program stimulate your people to become interested in space development and microgravity?

Fairos Asillam

Yes. You are right; the astronaut program (we call it the Angkasawan Program) is an important milestone that reaches all people with the importance of space science. However, we must remember that the Malaysian astronaut’s program was in 2007, and its effect seemed to last until 2010. After that we focused on science—not on people or the astronaut—because science is the backbone or foundation for our space exploration program. We recognize the importance of microgravity research and R&D, and we let people know that. Of importance is the experiment, the science part—not the people and not astronauts.

Secretariat

Do you think that an increase of interest is common to Malaysia as well as other Asia-Pacific countries?

Fairos Asillam

Yes, but to get support from the public or from school children, you must have a good program. If you don’t have a program, it is certain that people will not be aware of space activities. Because of the APRSAF program, the Asian community is now participating. In countries like Vietnam and Thailand, where there was no space program previously, the APRSAF and Kibo are offering open-door policies, and people have started using the facilities at Kibo.

One important thing that I would like to highlight is that Japan is an Asian country, and that is why the country is playing a leadership role for other Asian countries. We see Japan as the window, the opportunity for others to access space through Kibo. Kibo means hope. There is much hope for Asian people because of Kibo and JAXA.

Secretariat

So, in that sense, Kibo offers hope not only for the Japanese, but for all the Asian countries; is that right?

Fairos Asillam

Yes. You are right.

Secretariat

Regarding microgravity research and ISS utilization, it has many applications for biology, materials science, medicine, etc. In your opinion, what is the benefit of the microgravity research related to ISS utilization?

Fairos Asillam

When we conducted the space program, the astronauts benefited, but the number of astronauts is very small. When Malaysia designed a plan for microgravity R&D, we targeted the spin-off from the project. For example, why we are conducting a space medicine program? Clearly, we hope to find a cure for cancer because the disease is a huge issue not only in Malaysia but throughout the world.

When we conducted experiments involving protein, we were trying to find a new product, oleo, which has benefits for the oleochemical industry.

I think that our motivation for conducting a space program is to benefit the people. We know that space activities are very expensive, so it is very important that any such activity should be of value for school children or other groups of people.

Secretariat

I would like to move to the next topic. Yesterday, the Space Environment Utilization Working Group, or SEUWG, talked about the “Asian Herb in Space,” or AHiS, program. Can you explain the plan?

Fairos Asillam

First, I would like to thank JAXA, because SSAF has opened our minds to the importance of space agriculture.


Mr. Asillam presenting his country’s report at Plenary

The SSAF program focuses on education. The program was introduced in 2013, and we need to move from the first step to the second step. To move from the education program to the R&D program, we are proposing something new that we call the “Asian Herb in Space” program. We chose herbs because we believe that, in our region, use of herbs is standard, whether it is in a Southeast/East Asian country like Japan, China, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and so on.

Additionally, herbs are recognized as medicinal sources as well as nutritional sources that are easy to eat. We believe that what we learn from herbs can result in a contribution to space medicine; so, that is one item on the agenda. The AHiS program is designed to bring to the region a program that delves more deeply into R&D, which will also benefit the space medicine program. This is a very tough and new program that may last two or three years. Success with Asian herbs will not only be beneficial for Malaysia but also to the Kibo-ABC initiative and SEUWG.

Secretariat

So, will your group discuss the possibility of a feasibility study?

Fairos Asillam

Yes, and we are putting it in the form of a recommendation. We agreed on the project, and of course, it needs a feasibility study.

For next year, we are proposing a continuous project for SSAF. We have studied air ventilation and water distribution based on the previous SSAF, and from the experimental data, we can see that all of the beans were skewed in one direction. We want to know why they were skewed in this way. So, that is it for 2015, but AHiS may extend into 2016 and 2017.

Secretariat

As to your next challenge, combining space exploration is, as you said, a new step for the SEUWG.

Fairos Asillam

For your information, during APRSAF-22 in Bali, ANGKASA, Malaysia; LAPAN, Indonesia; and JAXA, Japan will discuss a future roadmap for this group of organizations and for space exploration.

Secretariat

Space exploration will be discussed during this APRSAF meeting, as you have stated. Do you have any idea how to collaborate or cooperate among Asian countries in this area?

Fairos Asillam

For example, in Malaysia, we are focusing through our space program on providing benefits for people. So, we are sending a remote sensing satellite that can be used for earth monitoring or security.

Our space programs are designed to make sure that every single dollar that we spend for R&D goes back to the people. In other words, the space program is for utilization by the people; that is one aspect.

Another aspect of space exploration is that we must move forward from the ISS to deep space exploration. For example, the international community is talking about going to Mars, and Malaysia and other Asian countries (through JAXA) should think similarly. How can we get Asian people to Mars? That is our target. We don’t want only the Europe and the U.S. going to Mars; we want a representative from Asia.

Secretariat

I see. Clearly, your SEUWG has a lot to do for the future.

Fairos Asillam


Mr. Asillam on the stage as a panelist of the Special Session “ISS and Beyond—Toward Global Space Exploration”

Yes, and we need more support from the people. If you go to another working group (like education), there may be 60 or 70 people participating, but our working group is very small. This low level of participation indicates that people are aware of the group, but they view the ISS as too sophisticated and the matters addressed by the group as very difficult. We want to eliminate that perception. Space exploration is for everybody.

Secretariat

I think that this APRSAF scheme will achieve your goals.

Fairos Asillam

It is a good scheme, yes.

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