updated 8/29/2005 4:37:17 PM ET 2005-08-29T20:37:17

After sending its first astronaut into orbit two years from now, Malaysia is hoping for a giant leap forward that will land one of its citizens set on the moon by 2020, news reports said Sunday.

Malaysia plans to send an astronaut aloft in October 2007 aboard a Russian spacecraft. That mission will be the first step toward the moon landing, Science and Technology Minister Jamaludin Jarjis was quoted as saying by The Sunday Star newspaper.

"We have to send several astronauts into space first before we can send one to the moon," he another newspaper, the New Sunday Times, quoted him as saying.

The agreement with Russia to put a Malaysian into space was part of a deal to sell the Southeast Asian nation 18 Sukhoi military jets.

A total of 984 cosmonaut candidates have been shortlisted from 11,275 Malaysians who had applied to go into space. Physical tests will be conducted to select eight candidates for an eight-month training program in Russia, after which a final candidate will be chosen.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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