South Korea: Yi on the Mend, Ko Says He Didn’t Steal Documents

South Korean astronaut Yi So-yeon is out of the hospital after treatment for injuries she received during the rough landing of her Soyuz vehicle last month. The Korean Times reports that she still has a sore back.

“I’m still wearing a brace, and my doctor said that I must not run, yet. That’s really hard because I love running,” Yi said at a press conference on Friday. She will leave South Korea on Sunday for a mission debriefing in Moscow.

Meanwhile, the man she replaced on the flight, Ko San, denied an earlier report that he was booted from the International Space Station mission for attempting to send classified documents about the Russian space program home to Korea.

“I’m not that stupid to try to steal important documents that way. There were really subtle incidents and Russian officials later agreed they did not matter,” Ko told The Korea Times. “The replacement of astronauts was a very complicated matter because intelligence agencies were involved in it.”

Ko said he was trying to understand how Soyuz’s systems worked so he could participate in the mission safely.


Korea’s Yi to be Hospitalized for a Week; Whitson Describes Landing

Korea’s first astronaut, Yi So-yeon, is expected to be hospitalized for a week to recover from back injuries she suffered from the rough re-entry and landing of her Soyuz spacecraft on April 19, Telecoms Korea reported.

The Korean government says that Yi suffered from mild dislocation and bruising of the vertebrae. She is being treated with physical and drug therapy as well as acupuncture at an Air Force hospital in Cheongju, 137 kilometers southeast of Seoul. She entered the hospital on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, American astronaut Peggy Whitson has described the rough re-entry and landing, during which the crew was subjected to more 8 Gs – 8 times the force of gravity. It was a lot to handle for Whitson and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, who had both spent 192 days in space.

Whitson told Florida Today that the re-entry started later than expected – which indicates that the Soyuz descent module didn’t separate properly from the rest of the spacecraft. Soyuz then entered a “ballistic trajectory” – a preprogrammed maneuver when the re-entry module doesn’t separate as planned.

“Landing was pretty much the car crash that everybody described to me…I had no sensation of the bounce part of it, but I definitely had the senation of a lot of rolling going on after that first hit,” Whitson said.

South Korean Astronaut Hospitalized for Back Pain; Soyuz Blame Game Continues

South Korean astronaut Yi So-Yeon was hospitalized on Tuesday because of back pain that resulted from Soyuz’s rough re-entry on April 19. Telecoms Korea reports the 29-year-old Yi was undergoing tests at an Air Force hospital in Cheongju, Korea.

“She has complained of considerable back pains and will have to cancel all her appointments for the time being, including visits to the presidential office and TV interviews,” Telecoms Korea quotes a doctor at the hospital.

While Yi recovers, the investigation into what caused the off-course, high-G re-entry continues amid much finger pointing. Alan Boyle of Cosmic Log has a nice report of the claims, counterclaims and sometimes strange statements being thrown around. Both the Russian and American space agencies have downplayed the seriousness of the problem. Russian space chief Anatoly Perminov, fresh off his poorly received comments that having two women aboard Soyuz was bad luck, is playing up a conspiracy angle: false rumors are being spread by “people who are interested in destabilization of our relations with the American partners.”


Reports: Soyuz Re-entered Atmosphere Hatch First

A Soyuz spacecraft that landed nearly 300 miles off course on Saturday apparently re-entered the atmosphere hatch first with a propulsion unit still attached, according to published reports.

CBS News reports that the Soyuz descent capsule – carrying Peggy Whitson, Yuri Malenchenko and Yi So-yeon home from the International Space Station – had difficulty separating from its propulsion module. The spacecraft re-entered the top of the atmosphere in an unusual orientation until the propulsion unit broke away, something it is designed to do in such a situation. The Soyuz then righted itself with its heat shield down.

The “ballistic” re-entry subjected the three astronauts to high G forces. CBS News quotes Whitson as saying that a meter in the spacecraft read 8.2 G’s.

The Russian Interfax news agency is quoting an unnamed Russian space official as saying the crew was in serious danger, according to the Associated Press. The hatch suffered major damage, as did a valve that equalizes pressure between the inside and outside of the ship. An antenna melted away, preventing communication between the capsule and Mission Control in Moscow.


Soyuz Landing – Apparently Much Worse Than Thought

MSNBC’s James Oberg has an analysis of Saturday’s mishap involving a Soyuz spacecraft that experienced a high-G re-entry and landed 260 miles off course. Apparently, things were worse than originally reported – including a brush fire that burned the parachute and filled the capsule with smoke, and a confused Mission Control that lost track of the spacecraft.

The three-person crew – ISS Commander Peggy Whitson, Russian Flight Engineer Yuri Malenchenko, and South Korean bioengineer Yi So-yeon -was subjected to about nine times the force of gravity. Yi, the only rookie on the flight, said she was scared but reassured by the calm of her colleagues during the bone-jarring descent. “I looked at the others and I pretended to be OK,” she said during a press conference Monday.

Oberg speculates that Soyuz’s autopilot malfunctioned, forcing the spacecraft into an emergency, ballistic descent. This is the second straight time that an emergency landing occurred, and the third time in five years. Oberg said Russia is facing a challenge of ramping up production of the usually reliable spacecraft amid plans to double the International Space Station’s crew from three to six and to retire the space shuttle in 2010. Meanwhile, Russia is facing a wave of retirements among its space workers and the need to hire younger, less experienced engineers and technicians.

When in Doubt, Blame the Women

Russian space agency chief Anatoly Perminov put forth a rather bizarre theory about why a Soyuz spacecraft suffered a malfunction on Saturday, subjecting its crew to a punishing re-entry while landing 260 miles off target:

A dangerous technical glitch that’s occurred three times in five years? Naaah. There were too many women on board.

“You know in Russia, there are certain bad omens about this sort of thing, but thank God that everything worked out successfully,” the Associated Press quoted Perminov as saying. “Of course in the future, we will work somehow to ensure that the number of women will not surpass” the number of male astronauts.

The Soyuz was returning from the International Space Station with two female astronauts – ISS commander Peggy Whitson and South Korean bioengineer Yi So-yeon – as well as Russian flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko. A malfunction caused the Soyuz to undergo a steep “ballistic” reentry, subjecting the astronauts to up to 10 times the force of gravity.

Reporters were apparently startled by Perminov’s remarks, which referring to an old naval superstition that having women aboard a ship is bad luck. When challenged by a reporter, the Russian space chief denied any sexism.

“This isn’t discrimination,” he insisted. “I’m just saying that when a majority (of the crew) is female, sometimes certain kinds of unsanctioned behavior or something else occurs, that’s what I’m talking about.” Perminov, probably realizing he had said too much already, didn’t elaborate any further.

The last Soyuz to return from ISS suffered a similar malfunction in October, as did a flight back in 2003. Officials said they would investigate the cause of the latest problem.

Soyuz Crew Reported Safe Despite High G Re-entry, Off Target Landing

A Soyuz spacecraft carrying U.S. space station commander Peggy Whitson and South Korea’s first astronaut landed 260 miles off course in Kazakhstan on Saturday after a re-entry that subjected the crew to as much as 10 times the force of gravity.

The Associate Press quotes Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin as calling the crew’s condition “satisfactory.” Whitson, South Korean bioengineer Yi So-yeon, and Russian flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko were being examined on-site by medical personnel and will be later flown to Moscow for further evaluation.

The Soyuz suffered a malfunction that sent it into a steep “ballistic re-entry,” subjecting the crew to high G forces. The last Soyuz to return from the International Space Station suffered a similar malfunction, as did one in May 2003.

Soyuz Launches New Crew to ISS

A Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Baikonaur Cosmodrome on Tuesday carrying a new crew to the International Space Station. Russian cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko were joined by South Korea’s Yi So-yeon, a 29-year-old bioengineering student, on the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft.

Volkov and Kononenko will join American Garrett Reisman as the new crew ISS crew. Yi will return to Earth with current ISS crew members Yuri Malenchenko and Peggy Whitson on April 19 aboard the Soyuz now docked at the station.

Yi is the first South Korean in space. Volkov is the first second-generation space explorer. His father Alexander logged 391 days in space on three flights during the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Soyuz Prepared for Historic Tuesday Launch

Russian technicians have rolled out a Soyuz rocket to the launch pad for an historic liftoff that will send the first South Korean and the first second-generation cosmonaut into orbit.

Yi So-yeon, a South Korean bioengineering student, will join cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko on a Soyuz TMA-12 flight to the International Space Station.

Volkov is the first second-generation space explorer. His father Alexander logged 391 days in space on three flights during the 1980’s and 1990’s. He was on hand Saturday to watch his son’s Soyuz rocket rolled out to the launch pad under a clear blue sky.

Sergei Volkov set to boldly go where his father went before

Sergei Volkov will become the first second-generation space traveler next month when he blasts off on an 11-day mission to the International Space Station.

The 34-year-old Russian cosmonaut will follow in the footsteps of his father, Alexander, who took off for the space station Mir in October 1991. By the time he returned in March 1992, the Soviet Union had collapsed and he had become a Russian citizen.

Sergei Volkov will fly to the station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft with fellow Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and South Korea’s first astronaut, Yi So Yeon, a nano-technology engineer.

“I just want to perform as well as my father, because there are things that he has done that nobody has been able to copy,” Mr Volkov told The Times of London. “There are a lot of men here who trained me who were around to train my father, and sometimes, even involuntarily, they will say: ‘Well, today you did better than your Dad’. But in spite of that, as a professional I can only hope to earn as many accolades and achieve as much as my father did.”

South Korean Booted Off Soyuz Flight to ISS

Citing security violations, Russian authorities booted South Korean’s Ko San off an upcoming Soyuz flight and replaced with his female backup, the Korean Times reports.

Barring any additional changes, 29-year-old mechanical engineer Yi So-yeon will become the first South Korea in space on April 8 when she lifts off with two Russian cosmonauts on a flight to the International Space Station.

During a press conference, Russian officials said that Ko had twice broken security protocols by taking training materials outside the Russian training center near Moscow.