April 10, 2008 / 1:13 PM / 12 years ago

First South Korean astronaut enters space station

KOROLYOV, Russia (Reuters) - A 29-year-old nanotechnology engineer became the first South Korean aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, when a Russian space rocket successfully docked with the orbiting platform.

The Soyuz prepares to dock with the International Space Station in this image from NASA TV April 10, 2008, with Commander Sergei Volkov, Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko and spaceflight participant So-yeon Yi of South Korea onboard. REUTERS/NASA TV

Also aboard the Russian craft that docked on Thursday was Sergei Volkov who followed his father Alexander Volkov into space, creating the first space dynasty.

“I feel great, really great,” said Yi So-yeon in a live linkup with mission control after entering the ISS.

Yi had been a reserve astronaut for the space mission but the original first choice candidate was ditched last month for removing sensitive documents from a training area.

South Korea paid Russia about $25 million to send its first national into space.

“You are now the face of Korean space,” the head of the Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Hong-Yul Paik, told her. “Take good care of yourself and do your best with your scientific experiments.”

Yi will return to Earth on April 19 with U.S. commander Peggy Whitson and Russian flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko who have been manning the ISS.

Staff at mission control near Moscow applauded after the Soyuz spacecraft, which blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, locked on without incident to the ISS at 8:57 EDT.

“We have touch down. We now have mechanical contact,” a mission control announcer said over a loudspeaker to an outburst of clapping, while a giant screen showed the Soyuz coupled with the ISS as it orbited the Earth.

Russian commander Volkov and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko will now start their six-month stint in orbit.

Volkov’s father also watched the launch, sporting the Hero of Russia medal on his lapel awarded for his space work.

“It looks like we are the first space dynasty in the world,” he told Reuters after watching his son on the linkup with the ISS. “I would have liked to have flown to the space station myself but unfortunately I can’t, so its up to my son to continue my space career.”

Flight engineer Garrett Reisman, sent to the ISS aboard the U.S. Space Shuttle Endeavour last month, will continue his tour with the new crew.

The $60 billion ISS is a joint project of the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe.

Editing by Jon Boyle

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