Space is a tool for sustaining peace

Space is a tool for sustaining peace

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Dr Yi So-yeon is the first Korean in space. She flew to the International Space Station (ISS) as a guest of the Russian government on board Soyuz TMA-12 on April 8, 2008.
Dr Yi So-yeon
Korea Aerospace Research Institute

Dr Yi So-yeon is the first Korean in space. She flew to the International Space Station (ISS) as a guest of the Russian government on board Soyuz TMA-12 on April 8, 2008.

What inspired you to become an astronaut?
When I was in primary school, I saw movies and animations with so many spacecrafts, I used to dream about them and wanted to be a crew member. It was just a childish dream. As time passed by, I realised that only Russians and Americans could go to space and I don’t have American citizenship to get into NASA. I actually gave my dream up at that point. I was interested in engineering so I entered it after high school. One day, I read an article which said Korean government was planning to send people into space. I was excited. The article said that the first Korean astronaut mission would be an experiment. I thought doing experiments in space would be really fantastic. Though I wasn’t sure I would be the chosen one, I wanted to be one and so applied. Finally, I got selected. I still cannot believe it.

What were your tasks at International Space Station (ISS)?
I carried out eighteen scientific experiments for the Korean government. Each of the experiment had a principal investigator who taught me how to carry out the experiment. They gave me a protocol to carry on the experiments on ISS. There were experiments related to biology, chemistry, electronics and astronomy. For example, I planted soy beans and some plants on ISS in small boxes and I cultured cells in a cell culturing device. I did educational experiments to see the effect of zero gravity on laws of physics. I did four kinds of educational experiments. I tested on Korean food for the Atomic Research Centre. Food Research Institute developed some space foods which I tasted on the ISS and filled up a questionnaire. I had a busy schedule on ISS for 10 days.

These days, young people are drifting away from science and engineering. Being the space ambassador of Korea, what is your advice to the youth?
Sometime back, Korean Government asked me to advocate the importance of science and engineering to the youngsters and make them enter science schools but I didn’t wanted to. If young people want to get into science or engineering, they can and if they don’t want to, I don’t want to push them into engineering courses. But I tell them, if you like something, try and do that to the best of your abilities. I don’t like to put restrictions on the basis of region, etc. If you are really attracted to what you do, hold your energy, sacrifice to that effect and it will definitely pay off. Sometimes it may take 30 years and sometimes it may pay dividends in just three. It depends on the character of the field one chooses.

What are your views on climate change? Could you notice these changes actually from the space?
I am not an expert to talk about climate change but when I was in space, I felt that we should take care of the Earth more than before. We should appreciate the Earth more seriously. The Earth gave us much more than we deserve. I don’t want to make a limitation to environment. It is related to economics, finance, environment, geography, military, security and scientific experimentation, whole things related to the Earth. I hope people don’t make some kind of divisions based on these fields. It is the problem of the Earth and not that of a particular country.

What is the role of GIS and remote sensing being used for these kinds of corrective measures for improving Earth’s climate?
I am not an expert in GIS. I don’t know exactly we can take corrective measures but I am sure people realise how important it is. Imaging from satellite etc are interesting and objective but I think application doesn’t have a limitation. We can do anything with that kind of data and information. We better open our mind, open the information so that they can use the same to develop applications. It will help to solve the problem of the Earth. People should think beyond borders as work collectively for protecting the Earth.

Is space a final frontier for you in life? What are your future plans?
Not at all. Space is only a step. I never thought that I could go to space. Now I realise that I am in space even now. We forget that Earth is a planet and is a spaceship. Earth is the most expensive spaceship. I want to make this spacecraft better and my potential goal is to educate and inspire the people who live on this spacecraft so that they realise that it is important to appreciate Earth. This expensive spaceship is not for free. People cannot take it for granted. As concerning my future plans, I will make a detail plan towards the end of my contract with the Korean Government. My plan is to inspire young children. I should think about my future plans more carefully because I am just not So-yeon but I am a role model for children. It is tough actually but I should handle it.

What are your views on going to Moon and Mars? What is your vision for future space flights?
Space should be used as a tool for sustaining peace. Sometimes I feel sad that space is only for the rich and developed countries. Russia is preparing to explore Mars. It is really fantastic. I support them. But it shouldn’t be the final goal, not a major meal. Space should just be a sweet snack like a chocolate. Space, Moon or Mars cannot be our hometown. Wherever we go, our base camp should be Earth. We cannot live entirely on chocolate but we sometimes need chocolate.