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    Malaysia's first astronaut will fly to the International Space Station on board a Russian Soyuz space shuttle in September 2007, Russia's state space agency said Friday.

    (Adds paragraphs 4-5)

    MOSCOW, May 19 (RIA Novosti) - Malaysia's first astronaut will fly to the International Space Station on board a Russian Soyuz space shuttle in September 2007, Russia's state space agency said Friday.

    Speaking at a news briefing after Russian and Malaysian officials signed a package of documents on the planned flight, space agency deputy director Yury Nosenko said: "Preparations and the selection of Malaysian astronauts have already been launched. The final choice of two astronauts will be made in late August or in September [2006]."

    Nosenko said preparations would take one year, and that the launch had been slated for September 2007.

    Russia will send Malaysian astronauts into space as part of a $900-million contract signed in 2003 to supply Malaysia with 18 Russian multipurpose Su-30MKM air superiority fighters. Russia proposed sending the astronauts to the ISS as part of its bid.

    Under the contract, Russia is also expected to help Malaysia open a Su MKM maintenance center.

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