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Rocket rolled out for Korean astronaut's launch

by Staff Writers
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.

A locomotive dragged the 50-metre (160-foot) rocket bearing the South Korean and Russian flags to the same launch pad from which Soviet icon Yury Gagarin, the first man in space, blasted off on his historic mission in 1961.

Yi So-Yeon, 29, is to take off on Tuesday for her 12-day mission to the International Space Station along with Russian cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko in an important step for South Korea's space programme.

"Our people, our country are very happy about this.... Yi's flight will form the basis of our manned space programme," said Sim Eunsup, director of the Korean Aerospace Research Institute, as the rocket was lifted into position.

Teams of Russian engineers worked on the rocket and dozens of journalists, tourists and officials stood by as a voice announced over a crackly public announcement system: "The space rocket has been delivered for launch."

A biosystems engineer, Yi is preparing to conduct a series of scientific experiments in space and has said she will be bringing with her Korean specialities, including the classic pickle dish kimchi.

She has also voiced hope that her flight could help reconcile the South and the North of the divided Korean peninsula, saying she would like people in North Korea to be "happy" about her historic space mission.

South Korea is paying 27 million dollars (17 million euros) for her mission.

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

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Japan recruits astronauts for first time in decade
Tokyo (AFP) April 1, 2008
Japan on Tuesday began recruiting astronauts for the first time in a decade in the wake of a successful mission to carry Japan's maiden space laboratory to the International Space Station.

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