South Korea is poised to become the 36th country to send a person into orbit with the successful launch of its first astronaut from a space center in central Asia later Tuesday.
A Russian Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft is scheduled to blast off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Space Center at 11:16 (GMT), carrying Yi So-yeon and two Russian cosmonauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said final preparations and checkups for the liftoff are proceeding without a hitch.
After the launch, the spaceship is slated to reach stable orbit around 240 kilometers from earth, with docking on the ISS planned for around 13:00 (GMT) on Thursday. The commander of the Soyuz spaceship will be Sergy Volkov, with Oleg Kononenko assigned as the flight engineer.
A successful launch will make the 29-year-old Yi the 49th woman to reach space and the second Asian woman to orbit the earth.
South Korea's first astronaut is scheduled to conduct a total of 18 tests during her 10-day-long visit to the space station and appear on several live interviews. She is also expected to make several broadcasts to South Korea by radio.
The bio systems engineer, and researcher at Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) will then board the Soyuz spaceship and head back to earth on April 19. On her return flight Yi will be joined by American astronaut Peggy Whitson and Russian flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko who are returning to earth after
completing their mission.
The ministry said Yi has met family members at the space center and will board the spaceship two hours before launch.
It said that a special event is being prepared in front of Seoul city hall to mark South Korea joining the league of countries who have sent people into space.
Yi, meanwhile, said in a interview on Monday that she was confident of a successful launch and pledged to do her part to help build up and promote South Korea's nascent space exploration program. Yi and Ko San, the backup astronaut, were selected as finalists from 36,206 hopefuls in late 2006.
South Korea, after a slow start, can make its own satellites and plans to launch its first rocket from within its boarders later in the year. (Yonhap)