Selected as one of ten finalists out of 36,000 applicants, Yi So-Yeon was selected to be one of two potential astronauts from South Korea in 2006. Before this announcement she had earned bachelors and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). She became a researcher at the school with her work using her micro fabrication skills in the design, creation and testing of DNA self-focusing microchips.
After her selection for the mission to the International Space Station, she spent fifteen months training at the Gagarin Training Center in Russia. It was announced on March 10, 2008 that she would be completing the mission and on the eighth of April she, along with three others, traveled to the ISS aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-11.
Spending two hundred and forty hours in space she conducted eighteen experiments for the Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). Included in these experiments were studies on plant growth as well as 1,000 fruit flies she brought with her in order to examine the effects of space on their behavior and genomes. Another experiment had her measuring the noise levels on the ISS and she was also the subject of her own research charting the physiological changes on her heart, eyes, and face shape that came from being in space. The return to Earth in Soyuz TMA-12 was marked with a poor reentry causing the astronauts to experience the force of gravity at ten times the rate of Earth and to land over 250 miles off course.
Earning her doctorate from KAIST in 2008 while in training she continued to work at KARI on analysis of the data she collected and as a public speaker on Korea’s space and technology programs.
In 2014 Yi’s resignation from KARI was announced citing personal reasons including pursing an MBA at UC Berkeley and a planned move to the United States. She is a faculty member at the International Space University as well as being an Advisory Board member at the University of Washington, Bothell, School of STEM.
Written by Angela Goad