Malaysia's first astronaut over the moon about fatherhood

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's first astronaut Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor thought his life could not reach any greater heights since his sojourn into space in 2007. That was until his daughter Sophea Isabella's arrival last July.

"My passion for space began when I was 10. After 25 years, I achieved my dream and it was the most magical and spectacular moment in my life," he said.

"It was just as magical and spectacular when I first held Sophea in my arms," the first-time father said, adding that he cried when his baby was born.

"It's a different experience from going into space, but it is just as great. Bella (as he calls his daughter) completes our lives," he said.

Like many fathers, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar, 40, was there with his wife Dr Halina Mohd Yunos through her labour.

"We had decided to do the more natural water labour method after extensive research but still she had a long labour, so when Bella was born, she became our greatest gift from God," he said.

He is also a "hands-on parent" as the couple has decided not to hire a nanny.

"We both work long hours but I am lucky that I have a more flexible schedule as a research fellow at the Space Science Institute at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. I also actively give talks, especially in the international arena, but when I am home, I take over the responsibilities of caring for the baby.

"I bathe her, change her diapers and feed her," he said, adding that his biggest "mission" now was to groom his daughter to become Malaysia's first woman astronaut.

"That was how my father got me interested in medicine - by exposing me to science and the profession of a doctor at a young age.

"However, when I told my dad that I was also interested in space, he was very supportive; he encouraged me and bought me many books about space," he recalled.

Should his daughter decide not to follow in his footsteps, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar said he would be just as supportive if she chose another line of profession.

"Until then, I will read to her stories about space exploration and travels to Mars to get her interested," he said. "I am preparing her physically, mentally and psychologically," he said, adding that her room had been decorated with images of galaxies and planets.

"But we are not going to force her, as in the end, it will be her own choice."

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