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South Korea Will Send Woman Into Space

By Kurt Achin
10 March 2008

South Korean officials says they are replacing the male astronaut they intended to send on a space voyage with a woman. The shift in plans, coming just weeks before the scheduled launch, is due to an apparent violation of security protocols by the male astronaut. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

The surprise announcement was made Monday by Lee Sang-mok, a Director of Research at South Korea's Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology.

Lee says the glory of becoming South Korea's first astronaut will now go to a woman.

That woman, 29-year-old bioengineering student Yi So-yeon, was originally chosen as a backup for male astronaut Ko San. Now, in a reversal of roles, Ko San is expected to stay behind when Yi is launched aboard a Russian rocket to the international space station next month.

Both individuals were selected from a pool of more than 36,000 applicants, and have spent months training at a Russian training center.

Director Lee says Ko San forefeited his first-in-line position by violating a number of Russian security protocols.

Lee says Ko San broke rules on several occasions, by removing sensitive training materials from the Russian facility.

Lee says the recommendation to replace Ko San came from Russian officials, who he describes as very fastidious about following rules.

Lee says Russian authorities point out that in space - especially aboard the space station where several nations are cooperating - even a small mistake or protocol violation can have serious consequences.

Yi is expected to spend 10 days next month conducting experiments with U.S. astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. The mission is part of an ambitious South Korean initiative into space exploration, including the planned completion of a $265 million space research center next year.

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