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    Malaysian astrophysicist talks about space technology and climate change
    Published On: 24-May-2022 | by Wong Li Za

    When astrophysicist Prof Emerita Tan Sri Dr Mazlan Othman was invited to speak at the Dubai Expo 2020 in March, she was over the moon.


    Not only because it was a prominent international event, but the opportunity meant she had the chance to share her views from a developing nation’s standpoint on the topic of space exploration and its effects on humankind.

    “I was thrilled when they invited me to the final forum of the Dubai Expo because I could speak on behalf of the developing countries and talk about framing the future.

    “One of the questions the moderator asked me was, ‘Why should we let the billionaire boys control what we do in space exploration?’

    “My answer was, we cannot prevent them from doing what they want in space. But the good news is, in terms of governing space, it’s governments that govern space.

    “So if we are smart about this, we will set up a government structure or framework that would govern what we do in space,” she said during a video chat recently.

    Prof Mazlan stressed that the reason for the framework was not to stop people from being innovative.

    “But whether we like it or not, there has to be some limits to what we can do. For instance, if people go to Mars, should we just let everyone walk about there?

    “If we colonise Mars, we must have a strict code of conduct. Can we own Mars, can we own the moon, can we own asteroids? Only governments can decide.

    “So while the billionaires go to space and do what they want to do, the good news is they are also investing in technology that allows humanity to go to space, and that’s an advantage, not a disadvantage. But we should govern what they do in space,” she reiterated.

    In order to set up the governing system, all governments, added Prof Mazlan, regardless if they are Burkina Faso or the United States, have one vote and they have a seat at the table of the United Nations (UN).

    “And it is the UN who will finalise the governance framework or structure of space. So I am trying to tell developing countries to not ignore this issue, that we have to go to the negotiating table,” she said.

    Reaching for the stars

    Born in Seremban, Negri Sembilan, Prof Mazlan, 70, comes from a family of six brothers and six sisters.

    The Professor Emerita at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and senior fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia is an accomplished scientist with a string of local and international accolades to her name.

    Prof Mazlan obtained her PhD in astrophysics from the University of Otago, New Zealand, and became a lecturer at UKM in 1981.

    he was seconded to the Prime Minister’s Department in 1990 to set up and head the Planetarium Division, which subsequently became the Space Science Studies Division in 1993.

    In 1994, she was appointed by UKM as a professor of astrophysics and, five years later, appointed director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa) based in Vienna, Austria.

    In July 2002, she returned to Malaysia to become the founding director-general of the National Space Agency (Angkasa). In this capacity, she established the National Observatory in Langkawi, Kedah, and the National Space Centre in Selangor.

    Prof Mazlan also headed the national Angkasawan (Astronaut) Programme, which saw the launch of the first Malaysian, Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, to the International Space Station in 2007. She was also responsible for the launch of Malaysia’s remote sensing satellites, TiungSAT and RazakSAT.

    Prof Mazlan resumed her post as director of Unoosa in Dec 2007 upon retiring from the Malaysian civil service.

    In June 2009, she was appointed deputy director-general of the UN Office at Vienna, retiring in Dec 2013.

    In 2017, she was made director of the International Science Council (ISC) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ROAP), a position she held until December last year.

    Joint contributions With her wealth of experience and knowledge, Prof Mazlan has much to share about the importance of space technology and advancements and how they are intertwined with the various aspects of our daily lives.

    “Agriculture, maritime, defence, water, the environment, etc – all of them benefit from space applications.

    “And in terms of climate change, space has transformed the environmental movement and will continue to transform our knowledge.

    “We can talk about the Earth as a planet (experiencing) climate change, for instance, as long as we can continue to sense the Earth from space.

    “We talk about planetary health and so on, but that’s only contingent on the fact that we have data not only on the earth, but that which is confirmed by what we see from space,” said Prof Mazlan, whose favourite author is Carl Sagan, an American astronomer and science writer.

    She added that there are many aspects to climate change, from monitoring water levels due to sea-level rise, the temperature of water and land, to soil humidity and monitoring cloud characteristics.

    “All that is done through space technology,” explained Prof Mazlan, adding that effective solutions require data from the ground, air as well as from space.

    “Climate change is the defining challenge of our century. It is a global challenge that will have a transformational impact on all of us.

    “So because of that, the solution to climate change problems must be resolved through global understanding, cooperation and investment.

    “We must make use of all the human resources that we have to address the problem. No country can live in isolation when it comes to climate change.

    “And the good thing is that space (cooperation) has proven that by having a global platform, we know about global calamities, as all the data can be supplied by our space assets,” she said.

    Prof Mazlan also called for more participation from various nations in terms of space technology and development.

    “Any country can contribute to the global picture by launching a satellite. And what is hopeful is that a satellite launched in space by any country can serve the whole world.

    “So we need to know what data is missing and what kind of space platform we need to launch to acquire the data to help us.

    “And all countries can contribute their resources and the expertise that they have, not just the rich countries,” said Prof Mazlan in conclusion.

    Posted Under :
    Digital; Malaysia;
    Source: The STAR Online
    Category: PDC