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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

First Korean goes into space

Asian News Net

By Kim So-hyun and news reports
The Korea Herald
Publication Date: 09-04-2008

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying the first Korean astronaut lifted off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Space Center at 8:16pm yesterday (Apr 8), Seoul time.

Yi So-yeon and cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko are on board the Soyuz TMA-12 which had been attached to a launching vehicle.

The nation became the 36th country to send a person into space.

The spacecraft reached an altitude of about 240 kilometers above the Earth's surface less than 10 minutes after launch, and will approach the International Space Station within the next two days.

The Soyuz TMA-12 is scheduled to dock at the ISS at 10pm on Thursday (Seoul time) after circling the Earth 34 times to adjust its orbit.

Live footage broadcast from inside the capsule showed Yi smiling, waving and giving the thumbs-up sign.

Ahead of the launch, Yi told cheering Russian and Korean well-wishers, including her family, that she felt great as she was escorted to the launch facility.

Originally a reserve candidate, Yi was picked for the flight last month after Russia accused Ko San, the primary crew member, of removing sensitive documents from a training center. Ko later apologized for his actions.

Thousands of people gathered in front of Seoul City Hall in the evening to watch and celebrate the historic event. President Lee Myung-bak and first lady Kim Yoon-ok also attended the celebrations.

The preflight ceremonies, countdown and takeoff at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Moscow's control center, along with the cheering in Korea, were broadcast live by SBS.

The broadcaster gained exclusive rights to air the space flight.

Yi and the Russian ISS flight engineers went on board the spacecraft two hours and 30 minutes before launch yesterday, after meeting with their families and delegates from Korea, then reporting to the Russian space agency chief.

Five days before taking off into space, the astronauts did over four hours of physical training each day to get used to weightlessness. For 50 hours, the three crewmembers will breathe oxygen from Earth, until they reach the ISS. They will eat sterilized and dehydrated space food, including 10 types of Korean delicacies such as kimchi and soybean soup.

Apart from eating and sleeping, Yi's days after docking at the ISS will be devoted to scientific experiments, various demonstrations and interviews for television and radio broadcasts. The first live interviews will be aired shortly after midnight on April 11.

The Soyuz TMA-11, which has been docked at the ISS for the past six months, will bring Yi back to Earth on April 19, along with the US astronaut Peggy Whitson and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko.

Yi is scheduled to leave the ISS at 2:20pm (Seoul time) and arrive at Kazakhstan about three hours later on April 19. She will return to Korea at the end of this month after going through two weeks of recovery treatment in a Moscow hospital.

President Lee celebrated Yi saying that April 8 will go down in history as the start date of Korea's march toward space.

"The coming of Korea's first astronaut is celebrated by the entire nation. It will give big hope to young people, in particular," Lee said in a TV interview broadcast ahead of the launch.

Lee said that the nation is on track to become the world's seventh-largest space powerhouse in 2020, when the nation is to launch its own lunar exploration satellite from its own soil.


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