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South Korea's First Astronaut Must Wait for Soyuz Seat

A South Korean astronautwas planned to hitch a ride on a Russian spacecraft in April 2007, but theUnited States has to take that seat to rotate crew at the International Space Station,according to the South Korean Science and Technology Ministry.

Russian President VladimirPutin offered last year to help send a South Korean to the space station, butseats have been sparse since the February 2003 [loss] of the space shuttle Columbia.

Although the shuttleDiscovery visited the station inJuly, problems with the foam insulation on its externalfuel tank have led NASA to depend solely on the Russians for cargo andastronaut delivery to the space station.

A Soyuz rocket took offfrom the Baikonur Cosmodrome last week, bringing a Russian-American crew and afresh load of supplies, equipment and experiments to the station.

The spaceship, which reachedthe station Saturday, also carried a Braziliancosmonaut into orbit for the first time, stirring widespread enthusiasm inBrazil, which joined the space station project in 1997.

South Korea is not a memberof the project, and member countries take priority in allocating spaceshipseats, the Science and Technology Ministry said.

The ministry said it wouldnonetheless begin the process later this month of selecting a candidate tobecome the first South Korean astronaut in 2008.

About 300 people will beselected by July and two final candidates chosen by the end of the year, theministry said.

The two will undergo 15months of training before one is selected for the trip.

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