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Wed, Apr 30, 2008

South Korean Spacefarer Hospitalized With Back Pain

Steep Reentry May Be To Blame

The first South Korean to travel into space, Yi So-yeon, was hospitalized Tuesday after complaining of back and neck pain.

The Associated Press reports Yi cancelled a meeting with Korean President Lee Myung-bak before she was taken to the hospital. An unidentified worker at the state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute -- where Yi works as a bioengineer -- said Yi's pain may have resulted from the harrowing April 19 reentry of her Soyuz TMA-11 capsule, following a visit to the International Space Station.

As ANN reported, the Soyuz transporting Yi, Expedition 16 Commander Peggy Whitson, and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko reentered the atmosphere along a "ballistic" trajectory, at a much steeper rate than normal. The ride subjected the crew to as much as 10 g's -- about twice the normal forces -- and resulted in the capsule landing some 260 miles off course.

It was the second time in as many missions a Soyuz malfunctioned, sending the capsule along the steeper-than-normal reentry path. Russian officials are expected to release the cause of the glitch by the end of May, according to the AP.

Despite the problems, however, the incident did prove the sturdiness of the 1960s-vintage Russian spacecraft; officials later disclosed the capsule entered the atmosphere on its side -- with its egress hatch taking the brunt of the heat from reentry, instead of the ellipsoidal capsule's heat shield. That resulted in substantial damage to the capsule, and loss of the communications antenna... but the spacecraft succeeded in protecting its human crew.

The South Korean government paid the Russian space agency $20 million for Yi's flight to the ISS as a space tourist.

Officials would not confirm publicly Yi's hospitalization was the result of the rocky ride home. "We are looking at various possible reasons for her pain," said the unnamed KARI official.

During a press conference Monday, Yi admitted to the back pain, but said Russian doctors had checked her out and found her condition satisfactory. "I think I'll be fine after taking a rest," she said.



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