Technological advances borne out of space science helped us understand our planet, its role as well as our place in the expanding universe. They helped us create inventions and technologies that have made our lives easier. Astronaut William Anders, a mission photographer aboard Apollo 8 captured the image what’s now known as the “Earthrise” photograph, showing our irreplaceable planetary home rising over the moon’s horizon. Taken over 51 years ago, the photograph continues to offer us a fundamental change in perspective.
Children are the future of mankind; fostering a passion for space exploration in young children is how one ensures that the next generation of innovators is ready to pick up the mantle—advance space science and exploration and make new discoveries that can benefit humanity at large. That’s, in short, what has been the aim of Generasi Marikh Academy since its inception in 2017. The academy seeks to help Malaysian young children develop their abilities and love for STEM disciplines, through appreciation of our cosmic home and space exploration.
Generasi Marikh Academy teaches space science to young children. The first of its kind in Malaysia, the academy seeks to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers and propel Malaysia towards becoming a space-faring nation. As of this writing, the academy offers 5 different types of space camp for children between the ages of 7 and 12. Each of these camps carries its own unique set of educational content and learning goals; taught by hand-picked facilitators from the space industry. What makes Generasi Marikh even more unique is that the syllabus also prepares these young children with 21st-century skills.
We, at emakayah.com, couldn’t be more honoured to have the opportunity to interview Generasi Marikh Academy. Without further ado, here’s our special guest for today’s Chatting With, Syukran Idris, the man behind this pioneering academy.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you did before this?
I’m from Muar, Johor from a family of six siblings. Now married with 2 young boys. My wife and I started our career in PETRONAS, and now we both run our own respective businesses. After serving PETRONAS for 10 years I became a senior consultant to the Malaysian aerospace industry, and currently running a training & media company.
When did you decide to become a space scientist; why did you choose that field of study?
I actually did science stream in high school but chose to pursue a business degree as that was the scholarship offered by PETRONAS. My career trajectory in PETRONAS was more in strategic planning. It was later that I discovered my passion for space science and education.
Was there anything or anyone in particular that inspired you?
My passion for space started from TV series and Hollywood movies such as Star Trek and The Martian. My favourite movie is a sci-fi film, Gattaca.
Generasi Marikh Academy, what inspired you to start this academy?
The film The Martian inspired me to start running space camps for kids aged 7-12 on a part-time basis on weekends and school holidays. The idea is to expose them to future careers in space and aerospace and inspire them to love science. Beyond science, we focus on leadership and character development. Just like astronaut Mark Watney who had to use his ingenuity to survive on Mars, we want our cadets to display adaptability, resourcefulness and tenacity.
How did space science and space exploration inspire you?
I had the opportunity to film at 3 NASA facilities and at SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles in 2017, as part of a project for FINAS, our national film agency. Later I went for a research trip to ESA in the Netherlands and the UK National Space Center. I got goosebumps as I walked into the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and even more excited as I witnessed a SpaceX launch from Launchpad 39A, where Saturn V launched the Apollo 11 mission. Imagine if a 40-year-old guy can get inspired, how about young kids? But how many of them will have the chance to visit these places? My passion for space goes beyond science and technology. To me, space exploration is about inspiration and the human ingenuity.
What have been the challenges in getting to where you are now?
We are currently testing our modules and the reception of parents towards science enrichment programs for their kids. Our next stage is to scale up.
Can you suggest a few books for young children who are interested in becoming a space scientist?
I read both fiction and non-fiction books on space, The Martian, Apollo 13, and Chris Hadfield’s Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth come to mind. I also read All About Space magazine and children’s illustrated books on space as they have beautiful images and simple stories for me to read to my boys at night.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about following in your footsteps?
I chose a non-traditional career path, and at the same time have a diversified source of income. I do it mostly to have time flexibility to be with my wife and kids, and travel to inspirational places, so I can produce more creative juices to come up with new ideas for content and themes for our camps. Look for ways to develop passive income streams, so you can pursue your passion, and still pay the bills!
Is our education system doing enough to attract students to get more interested in science? If not, what can be done?
We can do better. I’m inspired by UK education, using space as a context to inspire kids to pursue science. They also have a growing space industry. There is a strong link from education to industry.
Who do think will have the first successful manned mission to mars? NASA or Space X?
SpaceX. Elon Musk is crazy enough to make it happen.
What are your biggest takeaways from Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff?
The people who become astronauts are driven and disciplined. The movie Gattaca actually provided my favourite quote: “There is No Gene for the Human Spirit.”