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Korea's singing astronaut set for space launch

The members of the space crew of the Soyuz TMA-12 craft, South Korea's first astronaut, biosystems engineering student Yi So-Yeon (R), 29, listens to Russian commander Sergei Volkov during a preflight press conference at their hotel in Baikonur on April 7, 2008. Their blastoff for the 12-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is set for April 8. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Baikonur, Kazakhstan (AFP) April 7, 2008
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."

After the press conference, she jumped up and down waving to friends.

Her comments came after a committee headed by Anatoly Perminov, director of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, on Monday gave official approval for the mission to the International Space Station.

A South Korean space official said that Yi's 12-day mission would cost South Korea around 20 million dollars (12.8 million euros) and that he hoped the flight would help further his country's manned space flight ambitions.

Yi said she will conduct 14 scientific experiments in space and said she hoped her flight would help further the cause of science in Korea and encourage more Koreans to fly into space.

The Baikonur cosmodrome was built on the arid plains of Kazakhstan in Soviet times and Russia has continued to use the site under a rental deal since Kazakhstan became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The city was long kept secret by the military and is a living monument to the Soviet space industry, with mosaics depicting rockets and cosmonauts on the walls of homes and a large statue of Lenin on the central square.

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Rocket rolled out for Korean astronaut's launch
Baikonur, Kazakhstan (AFP) April 6, 2008
The Soyuz rocket due to take South Korea's first astronaut into space was rolled out of its hangar on Sunday as dawn broke over the steppes surrounding Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome.

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