Mazlan Othman

Mazlan Othman

Mazlan Othman in 2010.
Born (1951-12-11) 11 December 1951
Seremban, Federation of Malaya
Nationality Malaysian
Fields Astronomy
Alma mater University of Otago

Mazlan Binti Othman (born 11 December 1951) is a Malaysian astrophysicist who has served in several roles within her country, as well as Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna from 2010 to 2014.[1]

Early life and education

Born in Seremban, Malaysia, Mazlan attended Kolej Tunku Kurshiah, a Malaysian prominent boarding school in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. Her aptitude for mathematics led to enrolment in a science curriculum. Although her family encouraged her to become a physician MD, she decided to pursue physics instead. She attended the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand on a Colombo plan scholarship, earning a BSc. (Honours) in 1975. She then joined the National University of Malaysia (UKM) as a tutor, but negotiated an extension to her scholarship and returned to Otago, earning her Ph.D. in physics in 1981 - the first woman to do so since the University was founded in 1869.[2][3]


Dato' Mazlan Othman returned to Malaysia as the country's first astrophysicist, and worked to create a curriculum in astrophysics at the national university, as well as to build public awareness and understanding of astronomy and space issues. She also performed research for a semester at the Kiso Observatory in Japan.[4]

Her interest in public education was rewarded in 1990 when Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, a strong supporter of education and science, placed her in charge of the Planetarium Division of the Prime Minister's Department, overseeing development of Planetarium Negara, Malaysia's national planetarium in Kuala Lumpur.[5] After the planetarium opened in 1993, Mazlan was made Director General of the government's new Space Science Studies Division, where she launched a microsatellite development program. She received a full professorship the following year.

In November 1999, Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, appointed Mazlan as Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) in Vienna.[6] At the request of Prime Minister Mahathir, she returned to Malaysia in July 2002 to serve for five years as the founding Director General of Angkasa, the Malaysian National Space Agency, where her work led to the launch of the first Malaysian astronaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor.

Mazlan was reappointed as UNOOSA director in 2007 by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and left Angkasa to return to the post that December.[7] At UNOOSA she deals with issues of international co-operation in space, prevention of collisions and space debris, use of space-based remote sensing platforms for sustainable development, co-ordination of space law between countries, and the risks posed by near-earth asteroids, among other topics.

In September 2010, several news sources reported the United Nations would soon appoint Mazlan to be the ambassador for extraterrestrial contact,[8][9] apparently basing their claims on remarks she made suggesting that the UN co-ordinate any international response to such contact, and her scheduled appearance on a Royal Society panel that October, "Towards a scientific and societal agenda on extra-terrestrial life."[10] However, a UN spokesperson dismissed the reports as "nonsense", dismissing any plan to expand the mandate of UNOOSA,[11] and in an email to The Guardian, Othman stated, in compliance to the wishes of the United Nations, "It sounds really cool but I have to deny it."[12] She later explained that her talk would illustrate how extraterrestrial affairs could become a topic of discussion at the UN, using as an example the advocacy that led to UN discussion of near-Earth objects and space debris.[13]


In the 1997 Agong's honours list, Tuanku Ja'afar, the tenth Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia, conferred the federal decoration and order Panglima Jasa Negara (for meritorious service) on Mazlan, granting her the honorific "Datuk".[14]

Also in 1997, Mazlan's alma mater, the University of Otago, awarded her the degree of Honorary Doctor of Science.[15]

In 2009, for "her work in developing astronomy education in Malaysia and her leading national and international role in space science", the Institute of Physics awarded Mazlan its President's Medal.[16]

In 2013, Mazlan received the "Polarstern-Preis" (Polarstar Award) from the Austrian Space Forum for her engagement to fascinate for space above and beyond duty.[17]

Personal life

Dato' Mazlan Othman has two children and two grandchildren. She lives with her daughter (youngest) in Vienna, Austria.


  1. "Past and Present Heads of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)". Retrieved 30 May 2009.
  2. "Our History, University of Otago, New Zealand". Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  3. "mystery photographs | University of Otago 1869-2019". Retrieved 2016-05-30.
  4. Ishida, K.; Othman, M. (1988). "Surface distribution of M stars with different IRAS colour". Astrophysics and Space Science. 148 (2): 239. Bibcode:1988Ap&SS.148..239I. doi:10.1007/BF00645963.
  5. "ASP: World Beat: Malaysia". 1994. Retrieved 30 May 2009.
  6. "Secretary-General Appoints Mazlan Othman Director of Office for Outer Space Affairs". 26 November 1999. Retrieved 30 May 2009.
  7. "Mazlan Othman retires as DG of Angkasa on Dec 10". 12 December 2007. Retrieved 30 May 2009.
  8. Blake, Heidi (26 September 2010). "UN 'to appoint space ambassador to greet alien visitors'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  9. "United Nations to appoint space ambassador to act as first contact for aliens visiting Earth". Daily Mail. London. 26 September 2010. Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  10. "Towards a scientific and societal agenda on extra-terrestrial life". Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  11. "UN: Reported alien ambassador role is "nonsense"". Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  12. Weaver, Matthew (28 September 2010). "UN plan for 'alien ambassador' a case of science fiction?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 September 2010.
  13. M. Othman, personal communication, 2010-09-29
  14. "List of Award Recipients". Retrieved 30 May 2009.
  15. "Alumni Profile: Professor Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman". Retrieved 30 May 2009.
  16. "2009 President's Medal". Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  17. "Jubiläums-Polarsternpreis 2013 ergeht an Dr. Mazlan Othman". Retrieved 13 April 2013.
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