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First Korean astronaut blasts off

Korea's singing astronaut set for space launch
South Korea's first astronaut said Monday on the eve of her launch to the International Space Station (ISS) that she will celebrate arrival in space by singing for her fellow crew. Yi So-Yeon was set to blast off Tuesday on a Russian Soyuz rocket with two Russian cosmonauts from the same desert launch pad where Soviet hero Yury Gagarin, the first man in space, began his historic mission in 1961. "We will have food on April 12 on the Day of Cosmonauts and I will sing but it's a secret what is the song," Yi, 29, told reporters at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan after her mission was given final approval. Russians celebrate April 12 in honour of Gagarin's launch into space. Yi, a biosystems engineer, has listed singing as one of her hobbies. Smiling broadly, she told reporters at a training base outside Moscow last month: "I hope all the Russian guys and the American guys will like my singing!" Her jovial streak shone through at the final pre-flight press conference Monday in the heavily-guarded Hotel Cosmonaut in Baikonur. She sat behind a glass wall set up for fear of astronauts being contaminated, as stern-faced officials looked on. Asked what her first reaction would be on reaching the ISS, Yi said she would cry out: "Like, wow!" At a formal ceremony in Baikonur's space museum ahead of the launch she left a signature with a big smiling flower. She also told reporters on Monday that she wanted people in North Korea to be "happy" with her mission and share in her "triumph" and voiced hope that one day the two halves of her divided peninsula would reunite. "I think North Korea is not a different country because we have the same language and the same customs.... I hope some day we will be one. I hope North Korean people will also be happy with my flight."
by Staff Writers
Baikonur, Kazakhstan (AFP) April 8, 2008
South Korea's first astronaut Yi So-Yeon blasted off into space on Tuesday, prompting her mother, apparently overwhelmed by the occasion, to scream and fall to the ground.

In another historic first, one of her fellow cosmonauts, Sergei Volkov, followed in the footsteps of his father, celebrated Russian cosmonaut Alexander Volkov, the two forming the first space dynasty.

As the Russian Soyuz rocket soared into the clear blue sky from Baikonur cosmodrome, the Korean's mother, Jung Kum Sun, let out a piercing scream and fell to the ground before being led away by doctors.

Korean space officials said the 57-year-old later recovered, explaining that she had collapsed briefly because she was "very worried."

A few minutes after the launch, Russian space control confirmed the Soyuz spacecraft with three astronauts on board had successfully reached orbit.

"It's amazing! It's fantastic!," Sim Eunsup, director of the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, said as he walked away from a viewing platform.

Sim has said he would like Yi's historic flight to signal the start of a manned space programme for the Asian economic giant.

The spacecraft was to spend two days travelling to the International Space Station, where Yi was to live with members of the orbiting station's permanent crew before returning to Earth on April 19.

Earlier she said she hoped North Koreans would also share in her "triumph" and that she could encourage reconciliation between the divided halves of the Korean peninsula.

Yi and the two Russian cosmonauts took off from the same launch pad in the arid Kazakh steppes where Yury Gagarin, the first human in space, began his famous flight in 1961.

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, was one of several former cosmonauts who attended Tuesday's launch. "I'm happy for her," she said.

Mission captain Sergei Volkov, making his debut flight, is the son of cosmonaut Alexander Volkov, who blasted off when the Soviet Union still existed to return to Earth only after its December 1991 collapse.

"It's been difficult for me as a father," said Alexander Volkov, who wore his Hero of the Soviet Union medal pinned on a dark suit, ahead of the launch.

"I know what he's going to face and I know how tough it is.... I'm worried of course but I'm very proud that my son has chosen to be a cosmonaut."

The third crew member, Oleg Kononenko, is also a first-timer in space.

The Baikonur cosmodrome was built in Kazakhstan in the Soviet era and is now leased by Kazakh authorities to Russia. It is set in a vast plain dotted with debris from decades of space exploration.

After docking with the International Space Station, Yi has said she will celebrate the anniversary of Gagarin's launch on April 12 with a spicy Korean feast and a surprise song for fellow crew members.

"I hope all the Russian guys and the American guys like my singing," Yi joked with reporters last month at the training base in Star City outside Moscow where cosmonauts undergo gruelling tests for space flight.

At a press conference on the eve of her mission, Yi smiled and jumped up and down, waving to friends from behind a glass wall intended to protect astronauts from infection, as stern-faced Russian officials looked on.

Asked what her first reaction would be on reaching the ISS, Yi said she would cry out: "Like, wow!"

Korea will pay some 20 million dollars (12.8 million euros) for her mission.

South Korea has built its own rocket launch pad and is due to send up a satellite later this year. Officials said government funding for the space programme amounted to around 300 million dollars last year.

A biosystems engineer, Yi will conduct 14 scientific experiments in space and said she hoped to encourage more Koreans to fly into space.

She was selected last month after engineering student Ko San, who had been due to fly for South Korea, was taken off the mission for breaching rules by taking manuals out of the high-security Star City training base.

earlier related report
South Korea's first astronaut Yi So-Yeon was in buoyant mood as she prepared to blast off to the International Space Station on Tuesday in a historic debut for her Asian homeland.

Also due to make history was Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, whose father Alexander was a celebrated cosmonaut himself, the two thus forming the first space dynasty.

Asked how she felt as she left the Cosmonaut Hotel at Baikonur cosmodrome on a bus to the launch pad, Yi, 29, flashed a smile and made a victory sign, crying out to reporters: "Great!"

Before the launch aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket she said she hoped North Koreans would also share in her "triumph" and that she could encourage reconciliation between the divided halves of the Korean peninsula.

Watching her daughter set off in a space suit, Yi's mother, Jung Kum Sun, was also upbeat.

"I'm proud of my daughter," she said. "I'm sure she will complete her mission and come back. Before I was very worried but then I saw her smiling today."

Yi and two Russian cosmonauts were to take off at 1116 GMT from the same launch pad where Yury Gagarin, the first human in space, began his famous flight in 1961.

Sergei Volkov, making his debut flight, is the son of cosmonaut Alexander Volkov, who notably blasted off when the Soviet Union still existed to return to Earth only after its December 1991 collapse.

"It's been difficult for me as a father," said Alexander Volkov, who wore his Hero of the Soviet Union medal pinned on a dark suit.

"I know what he's going to face and I know how tough it is.... I'm worried of course but I'm very proud that my son has chosen to be a cosmonaut," he added.

The third crew member, Oleg Kononenko, is also a first-timer in space.

The Baikonur cosmodrome was built in Kazakhstan in the Soviet era and is now leased by Kazakh authorities to Russia. It is set in arid steppe dotted with debris from decades of space exploration.

After docking with the International Space Station, Yi has said she will celebrate the anniversary of Gagarin's launch on April 12 with a spicy Korean feast and a surprise song for fellow crew members.

"I hope all the Russian guys and the American guys like my singing," Yi joked with reporters last month at the training base in Star City outside Moscow where cosmonauts undergo gruelling tests for space flight.

At a press conference on the eve of her 12-day mission, Yi smiled and jumped up and down, waving to friends from behind a glass wall intended to protect astronauts from infection, as stern-faced Russian officials looked on.

Asked what her first reaction would be on reaching the ISS, Yi said she would cry out: "Like, wow!"

"Our people, our country are very happy," Sim Eunsup, director of the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, said on Sunday as the Soyuz was pulled out of its hangar and lifted into position at launch pad Number One.

"Yi's flight will form the basis of our manned space programme," he said.

Korea will pay some 20 million dollars (12.8 million euros) for her mission.

Yi was selected last month after engineering student Ko San, who had been due to fly for South Korea, was taken off the mission for breaching rules by taking manuals out of the high-security Star City training base.

A biosystems engineer, Yi will conduct 14 scientific experiments in space and said she hoped to encourage more Koreans to fly into space.

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Korean space launch inspires ethnic kin in Central Asia
Baikonur, Kazakhstan (AFP) April 8, 2008
As South Korea's first astronaut roars into space on Tuesday one group of overlooked fans will be staring up from this remote ex-Soviet territory with special enthusiasm: ethnic Koreans.







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