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Beyond the Moon

  • "We look forward to working with our close friends in Malaysia to accomplish the next 'impossible' dream. Together, we look forward to humanity’s next great endeavor…a moonshot that goes beyond the moon."

By Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir

As astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon 50 years ago today, he transmitted back to earth the unforgettable words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Although only a small child at that time, I remember the thrill of being allowed to stay up late to watch on our black and white TV the drama of that moment. My grand plan was to be the first girl to walk on the moon, but that career ambition hasn’t worked out yet. But I love my current day job – and maybe can pursue aeronautics in my next career.

Neil Armstrong’s career path, on the other hand, made him a modern day pioneer. His immortal lines recognized that accomplishing history’s first “moonshot” – a groundbreaking endeavor carrying historical significance, was larger than any one person or country. Landing on the moon marked a seminal moment in human history. As I grew up, I shared in our human fascination with space and exploration – while we developed the space shuttle, cheered and mourned successes and tragedies, and further pushed to see beyond the beyond with the Hubble Telescope and Mars Rover. At the same time, I marveled at the beauty of our own planet Earth as seen from space.

The 1969 moonshot was an incredible accomplishment for the United States, but it also highlights the incredible accomplishments of countries like Malaysia as we look at the development of the space program over the years. Throughout the duration of the Apollo program, NASA estimates that more than 400,000 engineers, scientists, and technicians from around the world worked together as the United States mobilized public and private sectors to reach the moon.

Companies like IBM, Honeywell, Motorola and GE all played essential roles in enabling Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin to reach the moon and return safely to Earth. The list of technology transferred from NASA’s accomplishments to our everyday lives is amazing: everything from computers to GPS to the clothes we wear all have linkages to the space program.

Malaysians know several of these companies well because they have been here for decades. About 99 percent of IBM’s employees here are Malaysian, and Malaysians hold important roles in IBM offices around the world. Honeywell has been in Malaysia since 1985 and today has more than 1,500 employees in seven locations, working on integrated avionics systems for aircraft.

One of the founding U.S. electronics companies in Penang, 98 percent of Motorola’s nearly 1,700 current employees here are Malaysian. Most Motorola employees serve in high-tech positions geared to R&D and new product development for global customers. Kuala Lumpur is home to one of GE’s three oil and gas Monitoring and Diagnostics centers, playing a key role in 24/7 “follow the sun” monitoring of turbines across the world.

U.S. firms continue to invest in high tech operations in Malaysia, often from offices that also serve as ASEAN hubs. The firms invest in talent development, including Malaysians at every level of the corporate structure, from managing director to entry-level employee. U.S. companies are the largest employers in several Malaysian states.

· Finisar, the world's leading supplier of optical communication products, hires more Malaysians in Perak than any other company.

· ON Semiconductor, a Fortune 500 semiconductors supplier, is Negeri Sembilan’s largest employer.

· First Solar has the largest factory footprint in the Kulim Hi Tech Industrial Park in Kedah.

· Intel and Jabil – each with close to 10,000 employees – are the two top employers in Penang.

I have enjoyed every opportunity to visit with the employees and managers at these companies, and to reflect on how our shared efforts have enabled us and will enable us to push the bounds of technology and human accomplishment in the fields of medicine, transportation, energy, and IT. U.S. companies often invite me to speak to their emerging young Malaysian leaders about my career, sharing the challenges I’ve faced and promoting creativity, critical thinking, and seeking horizons beyond Malaysia to prepare for the dynamic change in the future.

Throughout Malaysia’s history and especially over the past 50 years, Americans and Malaysians have built a mutually beneficial partnership through economic engagement and people-to-people exchanges. The U.S. government sponsors an array of exchanges designed to spark and nurture innovation. With the Government of Malaysia, we sponsor 100 American English Teaching Assistants spread throughout the country as part of the Fulbright program. The Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) builds leadership skills among youth in the region to address global challenges. The YES program sends fifty secondary school students to attend a U.S. high school and live with an American family for six months. In the last two years, I have met hundreds of participants in these programs and others. Each with special stories to tell of how the U.S. experience changed their professional and personal dreams. We are proud of all, but to provide a few “space” examples:

My good friend Mazlan Othman, a U.S.-ASEAN Fulbright Scholar and the astrophysicist who laid the foundation for Malaysia’s space program. Her efforts led to the launch of Malaysia’s first astronaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, in 2007.

This fall, Jonah Lau, one of our recent Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Program participants, will attend Purdue University – Neil Armstrong’s alma mater – where he plans to study aerospace engineering.

Many American companies here sponsor community outreach initiatives to inspire Malaysian youth to cultivate a love for science and creativity and push the next generation to greater heights.

Intel’s matching grant program delivers millions of ringgit to community groups where their staff volunteer. Melwin Cheng Choon Lei and Tham Yong Shiang, secondary students from Penang, won the chemistry division of Intel’s 2019 International Science and Engineering Fair in Arizona, and for their achievement, they will have an asteroid named after them.

Keysight Technology’s After Hours program, led by Vice President and General Manager Puan Shidah Ahmad, an Ohio University alum, mentors youth on STEM education. First Solar adopted a school in rural Kedah to curb dropout rates. And there are many, many other examples.

These partnerships are critical as the United States plans to push the boundaries of human exploration with a manned mission to Mars. We recognize that we will not get there alone. We look forward to working with our close friends in Malaysia to accomplish the next “impossible” dream. Together, we look forward to humanity’s next great endeavor…a moonshot that goes beyond the moon.

(Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir is the United States Ambassador to Malaysia.)


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