The First Korean in Space Is a Woman

South Korea announced today it is replacing the man tapped to be the country's first person in space and is instead sending a woman.

Yi So-yeon, a 29-year-old bioengineering student, will fly aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station next month.

She was the government's second choice for the coveted seat and got the assignment only after Russian officials accused the man first chosen for the flight of repeatedly violating training rules.

Yi, a doctoral candidate in biosystems at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology University, is to replace Ko San, 31.

Ko and Yi were the top two finalists out of more than 36,000 South Koreans who applied to become the first Korean astronaut. The government is paying the Russians $20.7 million for the coveted seat.

Russian officials recommended that the Korea Aerospace Research Institute drop Ko because of what they said was his repeated misconduct during training in Russia.

The Russians accused Ko of removing sensitive training materials from the Russian training center and taking them home, some of which, the Russians said, were not even related to his mission. He later admitted this was an innocent mistake and returned the material.

Korean authorities said at the time that Ko is a bookworm and seemed to have been overly "zealous to perform better and became covetous."

Ko will remain at the Russian space center and continue training. Yi is scheduled to hold a press conference there this Wednesday.

Ko and Yi have both been training at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center near Moscow. But now, Yi will be the one to lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 8, together with two Russian cosmonauts, bound for the space station mission.

Yi is expected to carry out science experiments at the International Space Station for 10 days.

"Not that we expect a revolutionary science discovery, but basically, it is matter of national pride," said Chang Keun-shik, professor of aerospace engineering at KAIST.

One of the highlights of the mission for Yi and the entire South Korean nation will be a traditional Korean kimchi dinner that Yi will host April 12 in the space station, in honor of the first Russian in space, Yuri Gagarin.

Kimchi is a signature national dish of fermented cabbage, marinated in red pepper and garlic.

Korean culinary scientists recently perfected a way to make kimchi and other Korean dishes such as soybean soup, hot pepper paste, sticky rice and Korean ginseng suitable for space travel.

Russia, China and the United States are the only three nations that possess the technology to send astronauts into space.

China restricts foreigners from participating in its space program, reportedly over fears of a technology theft.

But Russia has been selling seats to people from other countries ever since the government privatized its space program in 1999.

The first civilian to pay his way was American Dennis Tito, a California financier, who made the trip in 2001.

Last year, American billionaire Charles Simonyi and Malaysian aerospace engineer Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor also enjoyed the privilege of traveling into space.

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