Read full post: SoYeon Yi Part III - From Backup to Primary Astronaut

SoYeon Yi Part III - From Backup to Primary Astronaut

First Korean astronaut SoYeon Yi tells that story of determination that took her from backup astronaut to primary, securing her place in aerospace history.

SoYeon Yi spent a year in the Russian astronaut program, half of which was classroom-based and half of which was focused on work in the simulators. SoYeon recalls that the classroom portion focused on aircraft systems, safety, mechanics, and theory along with Russian language training. This classroom portion was followed by time in the simulator, when SoYeon really began to appreciate life as a backup astronaut. It meant that she could avoid the spotlight, unlike her male colleague and primary candidate, who was under constant media scrutiny. She also accepted her place within the context of Korean society: “I knew I would always be a backup. In male-dominated Korean culture, that would just be the reality.” Her self-awareness as a woman and minority—from her experiences as a working-class child navigating upper-class society, and as a woman in a mechanical engineering program—actually helped her advance to the primary position. SoYeon excelled in collaboration and listening, remained humble, and always learned from her mistakes. Over time, her Russian supervisors noticed these qualities, along with her work ethic (did we mention she was also writing and defending her PhD dissertation at the same time as her astronaut training?) and recommended to the Korean government that SoYeon take the primary position. After some discussions amongst the Russians and Koreans, it was decided the SoYeon replace her male colleague as the primary astronaut, and the rest was history.

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