South Korea's first woman astronaut blasts off

(dpa) - Yi So Yeon made history as South Korea's first astronaut when she took off for a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Tuesday.

Yi, 29, and two Russian cosmonauts blasted off at 1116 GMT from Kazakhstan's Baikonur space centre in a Soyuz TMA-12 for the 17th journey to the space station.

The nanotechnology engineer just found out in March about her upcoming travel plans when her compatriot Ko San was disqualified for violating space centre rules.

Yi was picked from 36,000 applicants for the mission, which is costing South Korea 20 million dollars.

South Korea's government has ambitiously spent to improve its national scientific competitiveness and will be the world's 35th country to produce an astronaut.

The country has a satellite launch centre on the island of Oenaro off its southern coast and is planning its own lunar orbit by 2020.

During her 12 days on the ISS, Yi will conduct up to 18 scientific experiments and said she looks forward to sharing with her fellow astronauts "a big dinner of Korean food," including a specially engineered version of South Korea's traditional pickled dish kimchi.

An advanced practitioner of taekwondo, Yi also lists singing as one of her hobbies and said she may entertain her fellow astronauts in space.

"Maybe I will sing in the cosmos. I hope the American and Russian guys will like my singing."

Yi obtained her bachelor's and master's degrees from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and received her doctorate February 29, but wasn't present to receive it due to her training commitments in Russia.

She will be the second Asian woman in space after Chiaki Mukai from Japan and she makes South Korea the second country to have a woman as its first space traveller, after Britain.

"As a Korean, I will try to make peace between the North and South Korean people," Yi said in March when she was chosen to replace Ko.

"The North Korean people will also be proud of my own flight."

The entire 49 million population of South Korea "has come together in heart and mind, watching the full process of Yi's selection to her ascent aboard the spacecraft," South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper wrote.

"She carries with her the dreams and ardent wishes of her people toward space."

Ko was accused of removing sensitive documents from a training centre. He later apologized for his actions.

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