Posted : 2008-03-10 18:05
Updated : 2008-03-10 18:05

First Korean Astronaut Switched to Woman

Yi So-yeon
By Jane Han
Staff Reporter

A 29-year-old female mechanical engineer was belatedly filled in Monday as the first South Korean in space, after Russia's space authorities dismissed Seoul's original choice on security rule violations ahead of next month's mission.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology told a news conference that Russia's Federal Space Agency asked for Ko San's replacement, as the 31-year-old repeatedly broke training protocol by taking sensitive training material outside of the Russian space center. Back-up candidate Yi So-yeon will take over.

``The main reason for the cut is Ko made two consecutive security violations,'' said Lee Sang-mok, the head of the ministry's space technology bureau, adding that both events appeared unintentional.

He explained that the Russians regard abiding by the rules as critical since even a small and innocent mistake could lead to serious consequences in space.

Paik Hong-yul, president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, said local authorities made the final decision early Monday to tap Yi after Moscow sent an official request for a switch on Friday.

He added that Yi will have no problems going aboard the April 8 flight, as she was trained side-by-side with Ko since last March. Among more than 36,000 hopefuls, the two were selected as finalists to become the country's No. 1 astronaut.

Ko, a technology researcher, will continue training at the Russian space center as Yi's backup without being penalized, said Paik.

Under the change, Yi will fly on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station as a payload specialist with two Russian cosmonauts for a seven- or eight-day mission. She is scheduled to return to earth on April 19.

Next month's mission will make South Korea the 36th country to put a person into space. Seoul said last year that it plans to launch a lunar probe in 2020 and make a moon landing by 2025.
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