The next time you
look toward space, you'll be seeing one of the last
great frontiers in AIDS research. In October a rocket took
off from Kazakhstan and transported a global crew of
astronauts to the International Space Station, and
during the 12-day mission, Malaysia's first
astronaut conducted HIV protein experiments.
Shukor, a 35-year-old orthopedic surgeon and part-time
model, was chosen by Malaysian officials from over 11,000
applicants. Initially some critics panned his
participation -- his country's government
secured a spot on the mission after spending $1 billion on
Russian fighter jets -- but his research was vital. Shukor
studied microgravital effects and space radiation on
cellular growth, which could lead to an HIV vaccine.
putting our man in space we want to raise the bar for
Malaysia," says Jamaludin Jarjis, the
nation's science minister. "This investment is
for Malaysia's future, to create a
homecoming was heartbreaking -- while he was treated to a
hero's welcome, the celebration was dimmed by
his having missed the funeral of his brother, who
unexpectedly died while he was in space.
It may seem
ironic that the crew member tasked with HIV experiments
would be Muslim, but that reflects the
pandemic's advances in the Islamic world --
where infections are rising in many nations, including
As for gays in
Malaysia, their situation also remains precarious. The
country prohibits sodomy, which is punishable by whipping as
well as up to 20 years in prison. In early November,
just two weeks after Shukor returned from space,
police raided a gay sex party on Penang Island,
arresting 37 men.
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