South Korea’s first woman astronaut approved for flight

March 22nd, 2008 - 11:30 am ICT by admin  

By Alissa de Carbonnel
Star City (Russia), March 22 (DPA) “I will not fly as So-Yeon, not just as a person but as the first Korean astronaut,” said the 29-year-old woman who has officially qualified to be South Korea’s ambassador to space. Yi So-Yeon, who stepped in mid-training to replace her compatriot Ko San after he was disqualified, beamed at Wednesday’s press conference attended by a dozen Korean journalists, some carrying glossy celebrity shots of the astronaut-to-be.

“As a Korean, I will try to make peace between the North and South Korean people,” Yi valiantly told the assembled journalists.

“The North Korean people will also be proud of my own flight.”

“But to my parents I am just a daughter,” Yi said, admitting to high tension before the launch. “My mother prays for me every night so I know that God will watch over and help me.”

At Russia’s historic space training centre Star City, founded in the 1960s northeast of Moscow, Yi was approved Wednesday to join Russian cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko in the cramped Soyuz capsule for the 17th journey to the International Space Station (ISS).

Nanotechnology engineer Yi, who lists singing as one of her hobbies, said, “Maybe I will sing in the cosmos. I hope the American and Russian guys will like my singing.”

Yi, who during her 12 days on the ISS will conduct a range of scientific experiments, also said she looks forward to sharing with her fellow astronauts “a big dinner of Korean food”, including a specially engineered version of South Korea’s traditional pickled dish Gimchi.

Asked what she would carry to space, Yi said in addition to soap, clothes and family pictures, “I want to bring a Korean traditional costume, but it is big and heavy so I will have to check with the flight surgeon”.

The two South Korean’s in training this past year with their Russian teammates at Star City were chosen from among 36,000 applicants vying to become the first South Korean in space - a project which is costing the Asian state $27 million.

Ko, a computer engineer, was taken off the mission for violating procedures by copying and taking training manuals off the base and mailing a handbook with his personal belongings back home in September.

“Ko was carelessly handling the training manual, and repeated his mistake. Twice he didn’t follow our orders,” a representative of the Korean space programme in Star City told DPA.

He added that the Russian side sought the swap as even minor mistakes or infractions could have serious repercussions in space.

The Korean official said: “She (Yi) is very popular - it fits because traditionally in South Korea women are better than men in many fields.”

Ko in turn told journalists he wished his countrywoman a successful voyage as she is set to blast off from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur cosmodrome April 8.

South Korea’s government has ambitiously spent to improve its national scientific competitiveness and enter the hierarchy of the world’s space powers. The country has a satellite launch centre on the island of Oenaro off its southern coast and is planning its own lunar orbit by 2020.

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