Yi So-yeon

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Yi So-yeon
Yi So-yeon at ISS 08Apr17 (NASA-ISS016-E-036365).JPG
KAP Astronaut
Nationality South Korean
Born (1978-06-02) June 2, 1978 (age 39)
Gwangju, South Korea
Other occupation
Time in space
10 d 21 h
Selection 2006 South Korean program
Missions Soyuz TMA-12, Soyuz TMA-11
Mission insignia
Soyuz TMA-12 Patch.pngSoyuz TMA-11 Patch.png
Korean name
Hangul 이소연
Hanja 李素妍
Revised Romanization I So-yeon
McCune–Reischauer Yi Soyŏn
IPA: [i so.jʌn]

Yi So-yeon (born June 2, 1978) is a biotechnologist and astronaut who became the first Korean to fly in space.[1]


Yi So-yeon was born to father Yi Gil-soo and mother Jeong Geum-soon and raised in Gwangju, South Korea.[2]

Yi studied at Gwangju Science High School. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees with a focus on mechanics at KAIST in Daejeon. Her doctorate in biotech systems was conferred on 29 February 2008 in a ceremony at KAIST although she was unable to be present due to her training commitments in Russia. In 2010, she enrolled in the MBA program at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley [3] In 2015 she taught at Everett Community College in Washington State as a Engineering Physics Professor. [4]

Space career[edit]

Korean curak[edit]

Yi So-yeon and Ko San participate in a space station hardware training session in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at the Johnson Space Center by Crew Systems instructor Glenn Johnson.
Yi So-yeon and Ko San participate in a space station hardware training session in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at the Johnson Space Center by Crew Systems instructor Glenn Johnson.

Yi was one of the two finalists chosen on 25 December 2006 through the Korean Astronaut Program. On 5 September 2007, the Korean Ministry of Science and Technology chose Ko San, over Yi So-yeon, following performance and other tests during their training in Russia.[5][6]

On 7 March 2008, she was selected to train with the primary crew, and on 10 March the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced that Yi would replace Ko. This was after the Russian Federal Space Agency asked for a replacement because Ko violated regulations several times at a Russian training center by removing sensitive reading materials and mailing one back to Korea.[7][8][9][10] On 8 April 2008, Yi was launched into space on board Soyuz TMA-12, with two Russian cosmonauts. South Korea is reported to have paid Russia $20 Million for Yi's space flight.[11] She is the third woman, after Helen Sharman of the United Kingdom and Anousheh Ansari an Iranian American, to be the first national from their country in space.


Flying as a guest of the Russian government through a commercial agreement with South Korea, Yi's role aboard Soyuz and the ISS is referred to as a spaceflight participant (Russian: uchastnik kosmicheskovo poleta) in Russian Federal Space Agency and NASA documents and press briefings.[12]


During her mission, Yi So-yeon carried out eighteen science experiments for KARI and conducted interviews and discussions with media. In particular, she took with her 1,000 fruit flies in a special air-conditioned container box (Konkuk University experiment). She monitored the way the changes in gravity and other environmental conditions alter the behaviour of the flies, or their genome. Other experiments involved the growth of plants in space, the study of the behaviour of her heart, and the effects of gravity change on the pressure in her eye and shape of her face. With a specially designed three-dimensional Samsung camera, Yi took six shots of her face every day to see how it swells in the different gravity. She also observed the Earth, and in particular the movement of dust storms from China to Korea.[13] She also measured the noise levels on board the ISS.[14]

Yi So-yeon with NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson (right), Expedition 16 commander, and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (middle), flight engineer, at the International Space Station.
Yi So-yeon with NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson (right), Expedition 16 commander, and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko (middle), flight engineer, at the International Space Station.

South Korean scientists created a special low-calorie and vitamin-rich version of kimchi for Yi.[15]

Return flight[edit]

At the end of the mission, Yi returned to Earth along with ISS crew members Peggy Whitson and Yuri Malenchenko aboard Soyuz TMA-11, on April 19, 2008. Due to a malfunction with the Soyuz vehicle, the craft followed a ballistic re-entry which subjects the crew to severe gravitational forces up to 10 times the amount experienced on Earth. As a result of the re-entry, the TMA-11 craft used in the return flight landed 260 miles (420 km) off-course from its target in Kazakhstan.[16] All three survived, although requiring observation by medical personnel.[17]

Yi was hospitalized after her return to Korea due to severe back pains. Though many believed these pains were the result of the rough landing, they were in fact normal and expected. They were the result of spinal re-compression.[18]


After her flight, Yi worked as a researcher at KARI and as Korea's space ambassador with Ko San. She will receive income from future TV commercials.[19] On October 4, 2008, Yi launched the International Institute of Space Commerce at a ceremony held in Douglas, Isle of Man.[20]

In 2009, Yi became the first astronaut to attend the International Space University (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP) at NASA Ames Research Center, held in conjunction with the inaugural class of the Singularity University (SU) Graduate Studies Program (GSP).

Based on her track record so early on in her career, Yi was listed as one of the Fifteen Asian Scientists To Watch by Asian Scientist Magazine in May 2011.[21]


On August 13, 2014, the Korean Aerospace Research Institute announced that Yi had resigned for personal reasons, ending the South Korean space program. In the interview, she gave two reasons as to why she resigned from the program: first, she was preparing to marry a Korean-American man; second, she wanted to study for an MBA.[22]

Association of Spaceflight Professionals[edit]

Following her graduation from the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business, Yi joined commercial astronaut corps the Association of Spaceflight Professionals and serves on its Board of Directors.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 바이코누르 (2008-04-08). 한국 최초 우주인 이소연과 그 동료들 (in Korean). Yonhap news hosted by JungAng Ilbo. 
  2. ^ Astronaut Gives Dream to Youth, The Korea Times 04-08-2008 - Kim Rahn
  3. ^ http://news92fm.com/466998/why-south-koreas-only-astronaut-quit/
  4. ^ https://www.everettcc.edu/directory/faculty/index.cfm?eid=1337
  5. ^ Associated Press (2007-09-04). "South Korea to announce its first astronaut". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  6. ^ Yoon, Sangwon (2007-09-04). "South Korea taps robotics expert as 1st astronaut". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  7. ^ "South Korea Will Send Woman Into Space". globalsecurity.org. 2008-03-10. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  8. ^ "South Korea Switches to Backup for First Astronaut Flight". space.com. 2008-03-10. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  9. ^ Associated Press (2008-03-10). "S. Korea names woman as first astronaut". CNN.com. Archived from the original on 2008-03-15. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  10. ^ "1st Korean Astronaut Could Be a Woman". Dong-A Ilbo. 2008-03-10. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  11. ^ "The First Korean in Space Is a Woman". abcnews.go.com. 2008-03-10. Retrieved 2016-11-16. 
  12. ^ "Expedition 17". NASA. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  13. ^ South Korea's First Woman Astronaut Lifts Off Into Space Voice of America - Kurt Achin
  14. ^ Astronaut tests aimed at enhancing space science, biotech Yonhap News April 8
  15. ^ Choe Sang-hun (2008-02-22). "Kimchi goes into space, along with first Korean astronaut". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  16. ^ "Bumpy landing 'scares' South Korea's first astronaut - Dailymail.co.uk". dailymail. 2008-04-21. 
  17. ^ "Soyuz crew endures severe G-forces on re-entry - CNN.com". CNN. 2008-04-19. 
  19. ^ Cho Jin-seo (2008-04-08). "Yi Ready for Blasting Off Into Space". The Korea Times. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  20. ^ [1]
  21. ^ "The Ultimate List Of 15 Asian Scientists To Watch – Yi So-Yeon (이소연)". AsianScientist.com. May 15, 2011. Retrieved May 21, 2011. 
  22. ^ "South Korea's First and Only Astronaut Just Quit Her Job". MSN.com. August 13, 2014. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Membership". Association of Spaceflight Professionals. 

External links[edit]