First Korean astronaut SoYeon Yi shares her memories of going to space and the harrowing return to Earth after 11 days in the International Space Station.
After years of studying and training, SoYeon Yi finally traveled to space for the very first time on April 8, 2008 along with astronauts Peggy Whitson and Yuri Malenchenko, both of whom had already completed space missions. A trip to space has a way of bonding people, and SoYeon Yi says that she remains good friends with Whitson and Malenchenko to this day and keeps in touch with them. SoYeon Yi’s excitement about being in space continued even after the 2-day journey on the Soyuz to the International Space Station. She wasn’t, however, too keen about all the cameras and media buzz when the Soyuz finally docked with the ISS: “We were all so tired. My hair was crazy messy. I was throwing up every ten minutes and all the vomit bags were in my side pocket.” Despite the fatigue, SoYeon Yi smiled and waved to the cameras, and continued to do so for the next 11 days they spent on the ISS, where she completed 18 experiments and was featured in TV and radio interviews. “Time flies so fast,” SoYeon says. “11 days is not that long.” Although she loved being in space, SoYeon did miss gravity and life on Earth. The trio’s return to Earth was marred by an mechanical error upon re-entry: a part of the habitation module was still connected to the descent module, causing a loss of balance. The capsule fell to Earth upside down, with the heat shield in a rotated position. This caused heat to build up: “If we had been in the capsule for a few more seconds, it would have burned up.” They ended up landing in a rural area of Kazakhstan, but search and rescue were nowhere to be found. Soyeon Yi and Malenchenko released themselves from the capsule, but Whitson was precariously hanging upside inside and they had no way of cutting her down. A nomadic sheperd witnessed the capsule crash land and ran over to check out the scene—he was the one who helped cut Whitson down. Search and rescue eventually reached the scene about 40 minutes later.
Want to learn more about what it’s like to travel in space? Check out the exhibits in our Charles Simonyi Space Gallery!
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