Moving to the next frontier of space programme

China astronaut Zhai Zhigang. Taken at the Chi...Image via Wikipedia


CHINA is moving in the right direction to build a 60-tonne space station around 2020.

On Nov 3, the unmanned Shenzhou 8 shuttle docked with Tiangong-1, which is China’s first space lab module, after travelling 343km in orbit.

The shuttle separated from the target spacecraft after 12 days and carried out its second docking on Nov 14. Two days later, Shenzhou 8 left Tiangong-1 and returned to Earth as scheduled.

News from the China Manned Space Engineering Office is that Tiangong-1 has continued its voyage at a height of 370km smoothly and transferred into a long-term operational mode.

The space lab module will wait for docking with the manned Shenzhou 9 and 10 sometime next year.

According to the office’s vice-director Wang Zhaoyao, during the flight of Shenzhou 8 its general biological experimental device functioned normally and 17 samples of Sino-Germany cooperative space life science experiments were recovered after the shuttle landed at the recovery site in Inner Mongolia.

He said Tiangong-1 had also carried out a series of experiments and tests as scheduled, including space-to-earth remote sensing exploration application experiment, space materials scientific experiment and space environment and physical detection tests.

“This space rendezvous and mission has fully realised its objective of ‘accurate entry into orbit, precise docking, stable assembly operation and safe return’.

“It marks a critical breakthrough for China’s space technology and set a milestone for our manned space development,” he told a press conference recently.

Wang said Tiangong-1, launched into orbit on Sept 29, was designed with a lifespan of more than two years and it would be well maintained until its following docking operations next year.

Under China’s space programme, after completing its first round of missions, Tiangong-1 will return to earth in 2013. It will be replaced by the larger Tiangong-2 and Tiangong-3 modules which will conduct more sophisticated space probes.

Tiangong-3 will probably be a 60-tonne full-size space station to be manned by astronauts.

The China’s Manned Space Engineering Office maintained that China is not working on the space station development alone and the country always welcomed other nations.

“We emphasise independent development but never said we want to develop in isolation. The development and operation of China’s space station are open to foreign colleagues and experts in the field on the principle of mutual respect and benefit, transparency and openness,” Wang said.

China has had fruitful space cooperation with Russia, Germany, France and other nations.

China would like to be involved in the building of the International Space Station together six other space agencies but because of various reasons, China remains excluded from the programme, he added.

He also refuted claims that China’s manned space programmes had military functions.

“We can say that none of the eight Shenzhou missions had direct military applications. But, we all know that space-related technological developments can be used in civilian and military sectors.

“For example, a communications satellite can be used for TV broadcasting and military communication. So it depends on what you use it for,” he added.

Wang hoped that critics would be responsible and fair when criticising China’s space programmes.

“The United States and some media have been criticising our space exploration programme and development saying is not transparent enough. First of all, they have to be fair in their comments.

“Last year, I accompanied Nasa administrator Charles Bolden for a tour of our space programme facilities, laboratories and launching centres in China. He was pleased on how transparent we were,” he said.

China’s space programme consists of three stages. Phase 1 saw the historic launch of the unmanned Shenzhou 1 shuttle in 1999 for missions to conduct space experiments. It was followed by the launch of Shenzhou 2, Shenzhou 3, Shenzhou 4, Shenzhou 5, Shenzhou 6 and Shenzhou 7.

The Shenzhou 7 mission, China’s third manned spacecraft, was the most historic when Chinese astronaut Zhai Zhigang became the first man from China to do a spacewalk on Sept 27, 2008. It marked a successful extra-vehicular activity (EVA) mission for China.

Phase 2 began with the launch of the Tiangong-1 space module. One of the main missions during this phase will be the docking of a manned space shuttle with the space lab.

The space programme administration will decide between Shenzhou 9 and 10 which one will be manned by China’s first female astronaut next year.

Related posts:

China’s Great Leap to Space Industry 

China completes nation’s first space docking 

China’s space station program


Recipe for innovation

AirAsia CEO and others give you recipe for innovation


KUALA LUMPUR: What fosters the spirit of innovation? The answers point to an encouraging environment and putting Malaysia into context, there is much to be done at the home, education and corporate levels to create an environment fertile for sowing the seeds of unconventional thinking.

That was the main take-away from the second Merdeka Award Roundtable last week, featuring group chief executive of AirAsia Bhd Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Malaysian Invention and Design Society president Tan Sri Dr Augustine Ong Soon Hock and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Zaini Ujang.

The award was founded by energy companies Petronas, ExxonMobil and Shell in 2007 where award recipients will receive a certificate and RM500,000 cash award for each of five categories.

“(Innovation) is not something you can teach or programme. It is creating a lot of little ecosystems to make sure (the environment is right) and culture does play a part in this,” Fernandes said, kicking off the discussion on “Cultivating a culture of innovation in challenging times.”

Sharing ideas: (from left) Zaini, Ong and Fernandes at the second Merdeka Award Roundtable. The discussion was hosted by Astro Awani’s Norina Yahya

Of the education system, Fernandes said the focus on books had overwhelmed the development in other areas that build thought leaders.

“When we look at some of the great leaders, they are all rounded. Our schools have lost a lot by focusing on academics only,” he said.

Fernandes believed that while the Government should foster innovation as well as trust the people and allow ideas, education is the key to take Malaysia to the next level. He opined that bringing back arts, culture and sport would change the way the future generation thinks.

“A successful education system should be about bringing out the best in children and giving them the ability to experiment and try all sorts of things and turn that raw diamond into a polished diamond,” he said.

As a parent, he believed that it was important to “expose the children to as many things as possible and allow them to go where they want.”

At the corporate level, he added that there was also a culture of subordination in Malaysia that hampered creative output: “When you go against the norm in Malaysia, you can be whacked. It’s sometimes seen as insubordinate or questionable when you challenge the norm.”

“That’s the culture. Malaysians are an innovative lot but sometimes we need to praise innovation by creating the environment,” he said, adding that the success stories of Malaysian innovation were not sung often enough.

“We don’t hear enough of the success stories. A lot of our technology came from Malaysians and we need to show that the commercialisation of these ideas have come to fruition,” he said.

During the discussion, Fernandes also revealed that the flat structure in AirAsia’s management was the “secret weapon” for its success in the industry. He said that communication flow relied on organisation structure.

“If you have a hierarchical organisation, the people who have ideas are sometimes too scared to speak up. (But) it’s all right to give ideas, it’s all right to talk,” he said of the potentially stifling hierarchical organisation structures in many Malaysian companies.

“I always say I would rather have 9,000 brains working with me than just 10,” he said, adding on that “if you create an environment where everyone feels equal and there’s freedom of expression (among all levels of employees), that provides a very powerful machine.”

However, innovating per se should not be the end goal too.

Ong, who is also a former member of the Merdeka Award Health, Science and Technology Committee, said there needed to be market-driven innovations to encourage worthwhile creations.

“When you have innovation for a market that is not ready for it, that becomes a problem,” he said.

“We should also look at what our country has a niche in. We should concentrate on areas where we already have good industries going on where innovation can bring some results,” he added, saying that foreign areas like nuclear energy may not be an ideal area to innovate since the country had yet to develop its know-how and infrastructure.

In terms of getting academicians engaged with market-centric needs, Zaini said UTM had a professorship scheme with Proton Holdings Bhd where professors were positioned at the company to spur on-the-ground projects with the staff.

“We target to have 100 patents under Proton per year from this industrial PhD,” the former Merdeka Award recipient said, highlighting the university’s market-relevant endeavours through the reverse flow of ideas from the market into academia.

The roundtable will be broadcast on Astro Awani in early December.

Think global or you lose out! Malaysians consumed too much with local affairs!

Malaysia (dark green) / ASEAN (dark grey)


They (Malaysian businessmen) don’t think global. They don’t want to even think Asean. For them, they are in a comfort zone and it is enough to do business in Malaysia.

NINE years ago, Datuk Ilyas Mohamed’s businessmen friends laughed when he asked them to invest in Indonesia.

“Malaysian economy was at its best until 10 years ago. We were at the peak. After that, it started to go down,” recalled the Cartrade Group executive chairman.

And Ilyas decided to enter the Indonesian market. His first deal was to buy Mandala Airlines.

The deal, however, fell through when a Singaporean company outbid his group. It put more money on the table.

But the setback did not discourage him.

“I am very fortunate as I have a business partner there, who is one of the richest men in Indonesia,” noted the 50-something businessman.

His silent partner is a low profile multi-billionaire (we’re not talking about rupiahs but in US dollars).

“He is by name my partner. But he is not interested in my business as it is too small for him. Half of Jakarta belongs to him,” Ilyas related.

(Who? Google: Artha Graha Group.)

Now, 20% of Ilyas’ business is in Malaysia and the rest overseas, mostly in Indonesia; coal mining in Kalimantan and property development in Surabaya and Jakarta.

And his friends, who laughed at him as they thought he would be conned in Indonesia, are now following his footsteps.

“Indonesia is THE market. They have 245 million people. Can you go wrong in a market with 245 million people? And the Indonesian Govern­ment welcomes Malaysian companies,” he explained.

“There are a lot of opportunities in Indonesia. They are not even developing. They are just about to develop. If you go in now it is the best time. You can’t piggy back when they are (already) up there.”

Ilyas, however, cautioned:

“Of course, the important thing is to find the right partner. Many people go there and find the wrong partner, they get conned and then they say Indonesians are ‘penipu’ (conmen).”

The Malaysian market is small as the country’s population is 28 million.

“You can do small business (in Malaysia). But if you want to think big, you have to go out (of Malaysia),” the businessman said.

How big is Indonesia?

“Out of the 245 million Indone­sians, about 10% are super rich and that’s the total population of Malaysia,” Ilyas said.

How rich is “rich”?

“Oh, they are very, very rich,” he said and gave a figure (in ringgit) which I thought was unbelievable.

The thing with Malaysians, according to Ilyas, was we think small.

“They don’t think global. If not global then think Asean.

“But, they don’t want to even think Asean,” he said.

“For them, they are in a comfort zone. Sudahlah (it is enough) to do business in Malaysia.”

Most Malaysian businessmen (and we are not talking about the bosses of CIMB etc) do not want to venture.

For example, Ilyas said, “Sri Lanka is a good market now. Their trade minister, chief justice and banker (with a bank equivalent to Maybank) came down to talk to our businessmen. But they were not interested.”

It is the opposite for Singapore entrepreneurs. With their rock solid Singapore dollar, they are rushing into Sri Lanka.

“They know that their local base is small and they have to do business outside of Singapore,” he said.

The Philippines’ economy is also booming.

“Over the past 30 years, Filipinos are fed up with politics. And they work and work, building the economy themselves. And if we are not careful, we might be sending maids to the Philippines soon,” Ilyas said.

It is politics as usual in Malaysia.

“Instead of coming up with ideas on how to create business opportunities, our politicians come up with all sort of (political) issues,” Ilyas contended.

“They are creating issues for cheap publicity. For example, you can take 10 Chinese, 10 Indians and 10 Malays and sit them down together and there will be no racial issue among them.

“But it is the politicians and not the rakyat that come up with all sort of racial issues.”

“How to be a global player when you are thinking of politics 24 hours a day?”

Ilyas flies in and out of Indonesia spending about 15 to 16 days a month in that country.

So I asked: “Why don’t you relax and do business in Malaysia?”

His eyes gleamed. “Of course as a businessman, you are an opportunist. When you see so much of opportunities (in Indonesia) you just can’t resist.”

Ilyas assures that the Indonesian market is not as hostile as its fans during an Indonesia vs Malaysia football match.

Consumed with local affairs


The Philippines looms as the next big Asean entity and Indonesia is the place to ‘park’ one’s money, but we would rather not know that the barbarians are at the gate.

THE barbarians are at the gate and yet Malaysians are more fixated with whether a mentri besar was caught for khalwat with a girl from Pasir Panjang.

Not true, says the MB. But tongues still wag.

Perhaps we should be more concerned with the fact that the Philippines will be the next big thing in Asean.

I remember reading a report saying that if we are not careful, in two decades or so we will be sending maids to Manila.

The thing about us is we are more consumed with domestic affairs than foreign happenings.

Yes, from my Twitter timeline, Malaysians are also interested in the fact that former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was arrested on charges of fraud and Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam was captured.

But we are more intrigued with when Parliament will be dissolved, and whether Parti Kita president Datuk Zaid Ibrahim will contest in Petaling Jaya Utara or Petaling Jaya Selatan.

I, too, am guilty of paying too much attention to local politics and not enough to global issues.

Yes, I’m aware of the eurozone debt crisis. But don’t ask me to get into specifics.

However, I’ve become a specialist on Kedah Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang’s challenge to DAP publicity secretary Tony Pua: he will consume a mug of Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia’s (KR1M) Chocolate Malt if the Petaling Jaya Utara MP donates RM1,000 to charity.

The challenge came after Pua claimed that KR1M’s 1Malaysia Growing Up Milk contained eight times the permitted amount of Vitamin A and was missing essential nutrients such as Omega 3, Vitamin B1, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and folic acid.

There was so much excitement in TwitterJaya (the moniker of the Malaysian twittersphere) over the issue, with some twitterers milking the issue with clever tweets such as “Pray for @TanKengLiang because he is going to drink 1Malaysia Choco Milk”.

Another big issue on TwitterJaya has spawned the mother of all puns and has also something to do with milk.

So syiok I was to absorb these comments like SpongeBob SquarePants, until I read a tweet by @Art_Harun (the lawyer) on Wednesday.

He tweeted in Malay: Malaysian politics – last month it was about molesting breast, this month it is about cows. When will we discuss the maximum impact of the eurozone on our economy?

Ouch. Time to come out from under my coconut shell.

So I decided to find out what the barbarians (Malaysia’s foreign rivals) were up to.

On Friday, I met a 20-something think-tank director at Coffee Bean in Bangsar Village to pick his brain.

The cerebral hotshot, who wants to keep a low profile at the moment, listed three challenges that Malaysia faces.

“Population wise, we are too small. We have a population of 28 million. Compare that with Indonesia’s 245 million, Thailand’s 66 million and the Philippines’ 103 million,” said the animated man, still wearing his maroon Friday prayer shirt.

“In terms of economies of scale, our enterprises will not grow so big because our market is small. We don’t have any option but to invest outside.”

Malaysian enterprises, he said, should think Asean to survive and grow.

“We should be on the forefront of ‘big’ Asean,” he explained.

He noted that Malaysian companies such as CIMB and Khazanah were investing in vibrant Indonesia, the country to “park” one’s money.

And through Twitter, he understands how important Indonesia is to the United States by reading the tweets of the American ambassador to Jakarta.

“Food security,” he said. “Many Malaysians do not realise that Malaysia imports almost everything – rice, fish and even chilli.

“Imagine chilli! I did not know that we imported chilli until I attended a briefing by Pemandu (Performance Management and Delivery Unit).

“We are also overly dependent on foreign workers. Free movement of people is important in a globalised world.

“But certain industries, such as palm oil and construction, should train Malaysians to work in these sectors.

“Suddenly they are finding it difficult to recruit Indonesian workers as that country’s economy is booming. Indonesians would rather work in Malaysian-owned palm oil plantations in their own country than in Malaysia.”

Note to myself: download the Economist iPad edition that has, as its cover story, “The magic of diasporas: Immigrant networks are a rare bright spark in the world economy”.

In the meantime, I wonder what will happen to Tan should he drink the 1Malaysia Chocolate Malt.

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