Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 12:22 UK

First S Korean astronaut launches

Rocket launch. Image: AP
Lift-off of the Soyuz rocket appeared to go without a hitch

The Soyuz rocket carrying South Korea's first astronaut, Yi So-yeon, has launched successfully on its voyage to the International Space Station (ISS).

Ms Yi and two Russian cosmonauts blasted off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur space centre at 1116 GMT.

The 29-year-old bio-engineer will spend about 10 days in space and conduct a series of scientific tests.

The launch makes South Korea the ninth Asian country to have had an astronaut in space.

Before the launch, Ms Yi had boarded the rocket flashing a thumbs-up and saying she felt "great".

Ms Yi was chosen from about 36,000 applicants for the mission, which is costing South Korea about $20m (10m).

Initially the back-up astronaut, she was moved up after Russian officials said the first-choice, 31-year-old Ko San, had broken space centre rules.

'Wow'

She is flying in a Russian Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft alongside flight engineer Oleg Kononenko, 43, and Sergei Volkov, 34, the son of a famous Soviet cosmonaut.

At a news conference on Monday, journalists asked Ms Yi what she would do when she arrived at the ISS.

South Korea's first astronaut, Yi So-yeon
Ms Yi was chosen from about 36,000 applicants for the historic flight

"I guess first of all I am going to shout: 'Wow!'," she replied.

She hoped that her spaceflight would help ease ties between the two Koreas.

"I hope someday they will be one, and I hope the North Korean people will be happy with my flight," she said.

The first Asian astronaut (or cosmonaut) was Vietnam's Pham Tuan, who travelled on a Soviet Soyuz mission in 1980.

Since then, citizens of Mongolia, Afghanistan, Japan, India, Kazakhstan, China and Malaysia have also journeyed into space.

Ms Yi is scheduled to return to Earth on 19 April with the outgoing crew of the ISS.


SEE ALSO
South Korea swaps first astronaut
10 Mar 08 |  Asia-Pacific
S Korea to send 'kimchi' to space
13 Feb 08 |  Asia-Pacific
South Korea picks first astronaut
05 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
South Korea buys into space dream
12 Nov 07 |  Asia-Pacific


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