Korea's first astronaut Yi So-yeon embarks on her important mission into outer space Tuesday. At 8 p.m. on April 8 (Korea Standard Time), a Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Yi will begin its final countdown at a launch site in Kazakhstan. Following a 50-hour flight into space, Yi will stay for 10 days at the International Space Station, orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 350 km, where she will conduct various scientific experiments.
With the launch, Korea will become the world's 35th country to produce an astronaut. It's a bit late for a country boasting the world's 13th largest economy, but the significance of the event is huge nonetheless. Yi was chosen as the final candidate after a nationwide search. 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. She carries with her the dreams and ardent wishes of her people toward space.
In June of this year, the Naro Space Center opens in Goheung County, South Jeolla Province. And come December, a homegrown rocket will deliver Korea's second scientific satellite into orbit. If successful, Korea will become the ninth country in the world to launch a satellite using its own technology. 2008 will open a new era in space exploration for Korea.
But we still have a long way to go. Our neighbors Japan and China launched lunar exploration satellites into orbit last year. India will soon follow suit. China is also the third country in the world to succeed in launching a manned spacecraft using its own technology. Korea plans to send a lunar exploration module in 2020, while a launch of a manned Korean spacecraft is unthinkable thus far.
Countries around the world are joining the space race for reasons that go beyond national pride. It's because of the spill-over effect such endeavors have on a country's economy, as well as its science, technology, military and national security.Most of all, Yi will be the best teacher who can widen the dreams of Korean children, so they may expand them into outer space. Her will to take on new challenges, to explore new things and to accomplish the mission set before her will leave an indelible mark on the minds of our children, so they may have the courage to take on new challenges and realize infinite new possibilities.