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South Korea's only astronaut resigns, ends the manned space program

Soyeon Yi says goodbye to her career as the first South Korean astronaut.
Soyeon Yi says goodbye to her career as the first South Korean astronaut.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Yi So-yeon was the first Korean to become an astronaut and the 49th woman to visit space. Not only that, this scientist was South Korea’s only astronaut. That is, she was right up until she disembarked from her position and as a result brought the South Korean manned space program crashing back to Earth, reported Quartz, Aug 13.

ABC News reported Wednesday that the astronaut quit her job this week because of personal reasons, which she stated in a resignation letter sent by post. This news came eight years after she had succeeded above more than 36,000 South Koreans who had applied for the same position and after $20 million dollars was dished out to fund her travels to space. Many citizens are angry at her resignation and consider the money spent wasteful. Taxpayers claim that the government may have chosen the wrong candidate for the job.

Yi So-yeon worked with Russian cosmonauts during the course of her career as an astronaut. This was because South Korea’s manned space program was very young. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) was founded in 1989 and primarily worked on aerospace technology. Out of KARI came the Korean Astronaut Program which “was an initiative by the South Korean government to send the first Korean into space via the Russian space program.” This program was created in or about 2006, the year that Yi So-yeon began training to become an astronaut.

According to Wikipedia, Yi So-yeon exercised 18 scientific experiments in space during her stint as an astronaut and also spoke with the press about her work. When asked by the press why she thought she was chosen for the position, she told them, "I think they felt I was open minded and would easily reach out to the public."

Last November, Bloomberg Businessweek interviewed Yi, asking her how she ended up in space. Yi told Bloomberg that the way it happened wasn’t quite how one might expect. The South Korean government made a public announcement that Yi heard about. The requirements of the program were that candidates had to be healthy, and at least 19 years old. “It was like an American Idol Competition,” Yi said. Even the 300 top candidates were televised as they competed for the top and backup spots in the program.

What will she be doing now? Since 2012, Yi has been on a leave of absence while she finishes up her MBA at the Haas School of Business. The student told Bloomberg that while she feels a great responsibility to the South Korean people, it is necessary for citizens to leave the country, make connections outside of its borders so that, by way of those connections, Korea can grow just as it wants to grow.

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