Here’s an out-of-this-world story you never knew you needed to read.
A Malaysian man garnered praise last week after announcing on Twitter that he had received a scholarship by U.S. space agency NASA by way of Singapore’s oldest university by coming up with an impressive system for future Mars travelers.
Days later, after netizens called his announcement into question, 20-year-old Azhar Ali clarified that the news had been false, and he the “victim of a scam” involving a purported NASA offer letter listing the National University of Singapore as a partner.
A university rep today told Coconuts Singapore that it sent no such letter to Azhar and pointed out that while it does offer a degree scholarship known as NASA, it stands for “NUS Awards for Study Abroad,” not “National Aeronautics and Space Administration.”
“We would like to clarify that the University did not send a letter with an offer of admission to Mr Muhammad Azhar Bin Muhammed Ali. In addition, the University does not offer a course on ‘Mathematics/Applied Mathematics for Cosmology,’” a statement sent today read.
Its NUS Awards for Study Abroad (NASA) Scholarships support undergrads who want to study abroad and is definitely “not offered in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration,” the university added.
The university’s response comes days after Azhar Ali tweeted out his good news on Thursday.
“NASA IS GIVING ME A SCHOLARSHIP !? Ya Allah, I NEVER thought of of this when I joined the Artemis Challenge. Alhamdulillah,” he wrote.
The tweet included screenshots of the offer email, a photo of himself as a “Citizen Scientist” that looks as if taken from a NASA website, and an infographic stating that he attained a “Super Distinction” score of “96.77% Spacesuit Interface Efficiency Level.”
It looks like the kind of thing one might make with an online infographic maker and employs other suspect wording.
A screenshot of the offer email shows it was sent by a Rene Holland. A NASA.gov site publicly lists Holland as the human resources point of contact for the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. She did not immediately return an email from Coconuts Singapore.
“Upon consideration, we at NASA STEM Engagement would want you to join our team of Youth Artemis Scientist,” it reads. “Along with the request, NASA and the National University of Singapore, NUS, are prominently offering you the NASA Degree Scholarship subjected to requirements.”
NASA IS GIVING ME A SCHOLARSHIP !? Ya Allah, I NEVER thought of of this when I joined the Artemis Challenge. Alhamdulillah. The challenge was to design a spacesuit that would adjust to the Artemis 2024 mission to Mars, and thanks to @rafiqhilmi_ ‘s question, I made it. Syukur pic.twitter.com/w6aCahmZdN
— Saturn 🪐 (@theotherazharal) April 30, 2020
Azhar’s announcement was widely praised, including a shout-out from none other than Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, according to reports. But with the attention came scrutiny, and Azhar was quickly called out for claims that didn’t hold up.
Though NASA does organize student projects through its Artemis Student Challenges program, they are only open to American universities. Though it recently concluded a project for students to design a mixed AR/VR system for future astronauts heading to Mars.
Apart from that, the bizarre wording and seeming improbability of it all, some pointed out that Azhar was not listed among “Citizen Scientists” on the NASA’s site.
The dream seemed to flame out by Sunday, when Azhar came out on Twitter to announce that he had been the “victim of a scam,” something he said he suspected after clicking a link in the email that took him to a “portal” where he could select “a photo for my so call recognition.”
He went on to say that he has since been receiving emails from “NUS” via addresses not coming from the university’s domain address.
He did insist that he participated in the program.
“Around 20 March, I participated in the NASA suit designing competition categorized under NASA for grades 9-12. I did my part,” part of Azhar’s Sunday Twitter thread read.
No high school version of the suit challenge, which requires some hefty electronic engineering and coding skills, could be readily found online.
Still, Azhar was circumspect on the lesson his experience held for all – but steadfast in his refusal to show contrition.
“What we, myself included, can learn from this is that we should always check for authenticity before engaging or posing any form of news to the public. I’m not going to apologise upon being a Victim of a Scam,” he added.
He did not address questions about how he was able to participate in the challenge and, as of publication time, had not responded to an inquiry sent by message.
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