Malaysia's first Angkasawan (astronaut) Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor is a bona fide cosmonaut and not a space flight participant as earlier suggested, a former American shuttle astronaut said here on Wednesday evening, local media reported on Thursday.
Captain Robert "Hoot" Gibson said he regarded Dr Sheikh Muszaphar as a peer.
"The Russians trained him for a year and he is eminently qualified to function as a cosmonaut or an astronaut. He should be called one," Gibson said at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center (KLCC) just before the launch of Malaysian first Angkasawan.
There were earlier reports that NASA had referred to Sheikh Muszaphar as a "space flight participant", a term reserved for space tourists.
However, Russian Ambassador to Malaysia Alexander Karchava refuted that suggestion and said he was a full-fledged cosmonaut.
Gibson, who has been up to space five times in his 18 years as an astronaut, said "this is going to be something he (Dr Sheikh Muszaphar) will remember for the rest of his life."
A Russian Soyuz spaceship carrying the Malaysian first astronaut and a two-man crew to the International Space Station (ISS) lifted off Wednesday from its launch pad in the Kazakh steppe.
Gibson said the Soyuz would be circling earth 16 times every 24hours.