April 8, 2008

First Korean Astronaut Launched Into Space

At 5:16 pm (11:16 am GMT) on Tuesday, the first Korean was launched into space on a Russian Soyuz TMA-12 spaceship. The launch took place at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the world's oldest space launch pad.

This mission, the 17th International Space Station venture, is comprised of three cosmonauts: Commander Sergei Volkov, Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko, and Yi So-yeon, the nanotechnology engineer from South Korea.

The 29-year-old woman was scheduled as the backup astronaut for the mission until last month, when Ko San, the original South Korean crew member, was accused of removing documents from a training center. Ko apologized, but Yi So-yeon was picked for the flight. Yi So-yeon is the 49th woman in space, the second Asian woman, and the first South Korean to make the trip.

In the South Korean capital some 5,000 people gathered to watch a broadcast on wide screen televisions of her liftoff, and the SBS network televised the event across the country.

Minutes before liftoff, the South Korean President Lee Myung-bak spoke to the crowd on the importance of the event calling the launch "another miracle of the Han River". He expressed his view that Yi So-yeon is giving hope to young Koreans, and his pride that Korea is finally joining the space generation. In his words, the flight would be "celebrated by the entire nation."

The countdown began, and Lee pumped his fist in the air as the spaceship left the pad.

At the launch pad, dozens of Korean fans and officials cheered and sang as the ship shot into the air. Yi's family watched from an observation post. Her mother began to cry as the spaceship disappeared.

After watching the launch, Ghoi Gi-hyuk, director of astronaut projects at the South Korea Aerospace Research Institute said of Yi, "She has barely overcome all the difficulties. I feel great. Four years of efforts by Korean and Russian experts have finally become successful."

A $25 million contract signed in 2006 by the South Korean government gave Yi the right to ascend into space. She is excited about taking some Korean culture into space by singing a song at a dinner party on April 12th at the International Space Station and serving traditional kimchi spicy cabbage.

Yi's duty is to conduct scientific experimentations at the International Space Station during the 11 days her mission encompasses. She will make the return to earth with members of the 16th expedition. Volkov and Kononenko will spend six months on the orbital station.


On the Net:

Baikonur Cosmodrome

Russian Space Web