Tuesday, March 11, 2008

First Korean Astronaut Yi So-yeon

South Korea's first astronaut is going to be Yi So-yeon (also written Lee Soyeon), a biomechanical engineer. Yi will be just shy of 30 when she rides the Space Shuttle Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, replacing Sally Ride as the youngest astronaut to date. In fact, according to Wikipedia, her doctorate was conferred less than two weeks ago, on February 2.

Michael Hurt of SeoulGlow
informally interviewed Yi in 2006 and early 2007, where she talks about what inspired her to become an astronaut:

First, when I watched sci-fi movies as a kid, there were always cool astronauts flying the spaceship. There was always one female scientist. Always exactly one female scientist. And that female scientist is always smart, and if something happens, she always explains everything well, and then... if all the men start fighting, she calms them all down ... There's always one like that. She's always thin, pretty, and always blonde. [. . .] Yeah, so watching these cool women back then, I thought, "Ahh! I want to be a cool scientist like that!" [English translation from the subtitles]
Hurt also asked her if she had any specific "hopes" as a woman:
From working at school as an engineer, there are some physically trying things, that men are better at doing . . . Working through things precisely, exactly, putting things together . . . women are good at things like that. Because there are things like that, I want to [show?] a side of women, that we also have great abilities. "Ahh, even though she's a woman, without whining or complaining, she can do a really good job!" That's my biggest goal . . . to show that to people. [English translation from the subtitles]
Watch part 2 of the interview, where she talks about training in Russia, the comments of "netizens" about her appearance (which she takes in good humor), and finishing her dissertation. Yi's enthusiasm seems a far cry from the macho astronaut stereotype. (There's supposed to be a part 3, but it doesn't look like it was ever posted).

Yi replaced male roboticist Ko San, who was removed after he "took reading material out of the center without permission in September and lent a book without authorization in February." Wow, strict.

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Anonymous said...

I think the full back story on this is probably a lot more interesting, speaking as a female scientist with some exposure to Asia. Korean males tend to think the sun rises and sets on their *ss and the entire society is one of the most patriarchal on earth. My guess is that the male astronaut really made a nuisance of himself to anger the Russian hosts like that. Plus knowing the Koreans, they chose a woman runner-up so they could look progressive all the while 'knowing' she would never actually go into space. I guess that choice backfired for them ;). I think this will be a landmark occasion especially for Korean women who are constantly subjugated by their society. So-Yeon will do a great job and maybe some Koreans will start thinking twice about their attitudes on women in science.

Anonymous said...

This is very exciting. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

She will be launching in a Russian Soyuz, NOT a US space shuttle.

Peggy K said...

Anonymous: Thanks for the clarification. I should have figured that out by the fact she was training in Russia.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see her on a NASA Manned Space Mission in the future.
God Bless You Yi So-Yeon on the very best of sucess on being an Astronaut.

Anonymous said...

wow your just makeing thirty and already traveling in space thats wonderful keep on the good work may all your missions be blessed solid control signing off welcome home