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First Korean astronaut blasts off into space

South Korea's Yi So-Yeon blasts off into space en route to the International Space Station, prompting her mother to collapse with the emotion of the historic journey.
AFP | By HT Correspondent, Baikonur, Kazakhstan
UPDATED ON APR 08, 2008 08:45 PM IST

South Korea's first astronaut Yi So-Yeon blasted off into space bound for the International Space Station on Tuesday, prompting her mother to collapse with the emotion of the occasion.

In another first, one of her fellow cosmonauts, Sergei Volkov, the son of celebrated Russian cosmonaut Alexander Volkov, made his debut, starting the first space dynasty.

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

Russian space control confirmed the spacecraft had successfully reached orbit.

It was to spend more than a day travelling to the 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 it would encourage reconciliation between the divided halves of the Korean peninsula.

Yi and two Russian cosmonauts took off 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 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," 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 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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