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19 Mar, 2008 14:38

Reach for the stars – South Korean set for space trip

South Korea is about to send its first astronaut into space. Twenty-nine-year-old Yi So-Yeon is to blast off from the Baikonur launch pad on April 8 with a Russian crew in a Soyuz space craft.

She said she’d be representing her nation first and foremost.

“I don't know how to explain what I feel actually. I myself don’t know how I feel. I will not fly as a So-Yeon. I will not fly as a person. I will fly as the first Korean astronaut,” So-Yeon said.

Initially, Ko San had the lucky ticket to the stars. He beat more than 36,000 other Korean contenders to the position. He went through a year of harsh training in Russia to become the first Korean astronaut.

But his dreams were dashed after he was caught taking some sensitive documents from the training facility.

With less than a month to go before take-off, he has been transferred to the reserve crew. But losing the star ticket still seems to be hard for the ex-number one.

“I regret what happened. I didn't want to break any rules. I just wanted to learn more before the flight. I wanted to become an astronaut, not a tourist. But Yi So-Yeon is to fly. I'm sure she'll do really well. And I wish her good luck,” Ko San said.

The work of any crew going into orbit has to be synchronised to the smallest detail.

And Russian trainers are sure that the switch, made at such short notice, will not have any negative effect.

“Both crews are equally prepared that's the reason for having a reserve,” said Vasily Tsibliev, Cosmonaut Training Centre Head.

In a few days’ time the crew of the 17th mission to the International Space Station will move to Baikonur.

There the final preparations will take place.

The flight will put South Korea into the space club as it becomes the 35th country to send an astronaut and the 49th woman into orbit.