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S. Korea Names Astronaut for the Country's First Voyage into Space


South Korea has chosen an expert on artificial intelligence for the country's first foray into space. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, the new astronaut beat out tens of thousands of competitors for a flight to the International Space Station.

South Korea broke months of suspense Wednesday about which of two finalists would get the first chance to travel into space.

Chung Yoon, the South Korean vice minister of science and technology, says Ko San will be the country's first astronaut.

Thirty-year-old Ko is a specialist in artificial intelligence who graduated from South Korea's prestigious Seoul National University. He defeated his female co-finalist, Yi Soo-yeon. Ko and Yi rose to the top from a group of more than 36,000 applicants.

South Korean authorities say Ko performed better in certain experiments, and was better able to communicate with Russian cosmonauts, who will be his partners in the mission he is expected to undertake next year.

Ko is scheduled to blast off in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft next April, and to dock with the International Space Station in orbit. He will then spend about a week conducting experiments.

Both finalists are undergoing training in Russia, and were not present at Wednesday's announcement. Vice Minister Chung says even though Yi Soo-yeon did not make the top slot, she still has an important role to play. He says Yi is receiving the exact same training as Ko, even though she is not scheduled to board the spacecraft. She will serve as a consultant who helps plan the mission.

Yi will also be on standby to replace Ko, if he is somehow unable to take part in the mission.

Wednesday's astronaut selection is part of a broader, aggressive campaign by South Korea to become a player in international space research. South Korean authorities say they are almost finished building a space center they began seven years ago, at a cost of $265 million.

Next year, South Korean scientists plan to launch the country's first rocket, which will carry a satellite into orbit.