(VIDEO) Vanajah Subramaniam who almost became Malaysia’s first astronaut
Did anyone remember this lady hero ? Lets take some time and refresh the great moment. A must told story to our younger generations. ❤
Vanajah Siva Subramaniam born on 2nd March 1971 in Klang Lama, Kulim, Kedah, Malaysia is a Malaysian Tamil / Indian worked as an engineer before becoming one of the four finalist of Malaysia Astronaut Program which was initiated in 2005. She was named the only woman and only Malaysian Tamil / Indian among four finalists who outlasted more then 11,000 other Malaysians who applied for the astronaut selection process in 2005.
When the names of the four candidates short-listed for the National Angkasawan Programme were announced Capt Mohammed Faiz Kamaludin, Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, Capt Dr Faiz Khaleed, one name stood out from the rest: Vanajah Siva, from Kulim, Kedah she was the only woman to make the cut into the final four.
Vanajah had a shot at being Malaysia’s first astronaut in space. Suddenly, all the media attention was on her. But she took it all in her stride because she was used to being the centre of attention, whether welcomed or otherwise.
The Astronaut Program was officially announced by former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad, as a joint programme with the Russian Federation. It was a project under the government-to-government offset agreement through the purchase of Sukhoi Su-30MKM fighter jets for the Royal Malaysian Air Force. Under this agreement, the Russian Federation bore the cost of training for two Malaysians for space travel and for sending one to the International Space Station (ISS) in October 2007.
The Malaysian National Space Agency (ANGKASA), Ministry of Science, Technologies and Innovations were given the responsibility of selecting the candidates. Two candidates were then sent to the Cosmonaut Training Programme in Star City, Russia for 18 months of training. Although Vanajah passed the entire tests together with the other three final candidates, she always being remembered as the only female that beats 11,000 other Malaysian to reach the final four.
Vanajah always stood out like a sore thumb in the conservative Tamil community of Kulim, Kedah. She always flaunted the rules of what was expected of a `traditional’ girl from that conservative community.
‘Striving for independence has been a goal in my life since I was a teenager, which was instilled in me by my father. He paid special attention to me in ensuring I was capable of the challenges I will face in this world as a woman. I hear his voice in my head till today on making it his responsibility as a father to raise and support me in achieving two valuable ambitions in my life, independence and education. And he has done exactly that.’
She had amazing will power and determination. When her friends in Form 6, in the science stream took the maths and biology combination, Vanajah decided to take the double maths combination, which was considered difficult. Her friends tried to persuade her to change her combination but she refused. In the end, she was the only Indian girl in the whole school who did the double maths combination and made it to university.’ Her friend Latha says Vanajah always gives her best in everything she does and is a kind-hearted person who is ever ready to help anyone who needs it.
Vanajah credits her father with instilling in her the belief that she could do anything she wanted and that her sex was not a barrier. `My father taught me to be independent and always stressed the importance of education,’ she says.
Vanajah became fascinated with space after watching the Star Wars movie. She dreamt of becoming an astronaut and if that was not possible, of working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
When she discovered in 2003 that Malaysia was looking for a suitable candidate to send to space, she realised she had found a way to make her dreams come true. Despite the caution from friends on her chances of even being considered for the programme, Vanajah sent in her application.
Later when it was revealed that she had made it to the final four, those who knew her well were not surprised. `Whenever she makes up her mind to do something, she single-mindedly pursues the goal until she gets it or feels she has done her level best to get it,’ says her friend Latha.
The four persons have been selected from around 11,275 applicants after a selection process which started in 2003.
Vanajah was nervous going in for her final round of tests in Russia but came out feeling confident that she had a very good chance of being selected. So it is understandable that when the final selection was announced and she was not one of them, she felt `devastated’. `I knew that at the selection process things would go either way but I was confident’ she says. She had come so close to achieving her childhood dream. (Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor was the chosen one, with Dr Faiz Khaleed as the back-up in case Dr Sheikh cannot make it at the last moment.)
Despite putting up a brave front for the media, privately Vanajah felt miserable. Suddenly she was just another normal person, one without a job to boot. `I stayed away from everyone for a month. I needed time to deal with the fact that after coming so far, I did not make it to the final 2,’ explains Vanajah.
But while one door had closed, another had opened for her. One day she very reluctantly went for a dinner honouring her, organised by one Indian organisation. It was there that she found out how much her success at making it to the final four, meant to the community and how proud they were of her. She also began getting calls inviting her to talk to school students, especially from Tamil schools.
`When I began giving the talks, I realised that I was an inspiration to many of the students. If I could do it, they could too. After each talk, the students would come up to me and ask me questions like what they should do to become a pilot or what they should do to succeed in life. When I saw the hope in their eyes, I realised that all was not lost for me. This was what I was meant to do: to give hope especially for students from small towns and those who do not come from well-to-do families,’ says Vanajah.
She is already preparing for the next adventure in her life, in 2007, Vanajah received the MEASAT Scholarship and left to pursue a master’s degree at Chalmers University of Technology, in Gothenburg, Sweden, `It has always been my dream to do my masters and now I have this great opportunity,’ she says excitedly. She completed her Masters in 2009. In Jan 2011, Vanajah Siva again boarded a plane for Sweden where she will spend the next 5 years pursuing her Ph.D at the Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg.
Vanajah sees that pursuing a PhD research provides a distinct opportunity in making a contribution to societies in general and in fulfilling a dream, personally.
In many interviews, Vanajah has admitted that participating in the program was one of her best achievements in life, no matter the outcome. But despite being on the threshold of the greatest experience of her life, her dream was shattered when she did not make the cut for the final two.
We hope Malaysians remember Vanajah and are inspired by her story, she says anything is possible when you pursue with passion in your heart.