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Korean astronaut to dock at space station Thursday

All Headlines 16:48 April 09, 2008

SEOUL, April 9 (Yonhap) -- A Russian spacecraft carrying South Korea's first astronaut will dock Thursday at the International Space Station (ISS) as scheduled after a three-day voyage in space, officials said Wednesday.

Yi So-yeon, a 29-year-old female biosystems engineer who blasted off from the Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan on Tuesday with two cosmonauts, "spent her first night in space safely," the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said in a statement.

The Soyuz TMA-12 was scheduled to dock at the orbital outpost around 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, or about 1300 GMT, after circling the Earth 33 or 34 times, the ministry said.

Yi was scheduled to enter the ISS about three hours later, it said.

At the space station, she will conduct 18 scientific experiments on behalf of South Korea's state-run space agency, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, including tests on plant growth and human cells.

She will also eat 10 specially engineered Korean foods, including bacteria-free Kimchi, a traditional Korean fermented dish.

On Tuesday evening, parties and activities were held across South Korea to mark the country's first foray into space.

South Korean newspapers have described Yi's voyage as a national milestone and urged the government to step up its efforts to catch up with space powers.

"The government has realized its dream of sending a Korean into space," the Korean-language Dong-a Ilbo newspaper in an editorial, calling Yi's voyage a "small but big" step toward space.

"A national consensus must be formed if a massive budget is to be allocated with a long-term vision to become a space power," it said.

For the launch, the South Korean government reportedly paid Russia 18 billion won (US$18.4 million).

South Korea has launched 11 communications and weather satellites since 1992.

Yi is scheduled to return to Earth on April 19.

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