South Korean Astronaut Shares Laughs, Space Food With Station Crew
The joint Expedition 16-17 crew and South Korean astronaut So-yeon Yi (bottom right) talk to reporters from the United States and Russia on April 15, 2008. Top row: (from left) Expedition 16 flight engineer Garrett Reisman, commander Peggy Whitson, flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko. Bottom Row: (from left) Expedition 17 flight engineer Oleg Kononenko, commander Sergei Volkov, Yi.
Credit: NASA TV

South Korea?s first astronaut is sharing some hearty laughs and traditional - but extra spicy - space food with U.S. and Russian crewmates aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

After a week in space, South Korean bioengineer So-yeon Yi, 29, told reporters Tuesday that her mission is going well and that her country?s space food is apparently a hit aboard the ISS.

?It?s very delicious,? said second-generation Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, commander of the station?s new Expedition 17 crew, via a space-to-ground video link. ?Of course, it?s very spicy for sure. Despite the fact that you want things spicy when you get up here, it was a bit more spicy than we expected or required.?

Yi, Volkov and Expedition 17 flight engineer Oleg Kononenko launched into orbit aboard their Russian-built Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft on April 8. They docked two days later to replace the station?s outgoing Expedition 16 commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko.

?The most fantastic thing is that I cannot feel my weight, and I can fly around like Peter Pan,? Yi told reporters. ?Earth is really beautiful.?

In addition to her experiment equipment, Yi packed Korean kimchi and other traditional foods to share with her U.S. and Russian crewmates during a holiday meal on April 12, which Russia celebrates as Cosmonautics Day.

"Their reaction was particularly good for instant noodles, kimchi and chili paste," the Korean news agency Yonhap quoted Yi as saying on April 13. "I am not certain if they will become common fare in space, but others enjoyed the food I brought and if there are any left I plan to leave some behind for others to enjoy."

Yi will return to Earth on Saturday with Whitson and Malenchenko aboard their Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft.

?So-yeon has done a phenomenal job while she?s been up here. It?s great having her laugh and smile,? said a smiling Whitson, who is wrapping up a six-month mission with Malenchenko. ?And we enjoyed the Korean food. Some of us like it spicy.?

Yi is flying under a commercial agreement between Russia and South Korea, and was initially selected from a field of 36,000 applicants to serve as a backup astronaut. Yi moved to the prime crew last month after Russian space officials pulled South Korea?s first astronaut, artificial intelligence expert San Ko, from the flight due to reading rule violations.

Crew swap goes well

While Yi performs a series of experiments and educational events for her country, a crew swap is in full swing between the Expedition 17 and Expedition 16 astronauts.

Whitson, the station?s first female commander, and Malenchenko have lived and worked aboard the space station since October. During their six months in space, they?ve welcomed a new connecting module, European lab, Japanese storage room and Canadian robot repairman during three visiting shuttle, as well as Europe?s first unmanned cargo ship Jules Verne.

?I have to admit, I really enjoyed ingressing all the new modules,? said Whitson, who will set a new U.S. record for the most cumulative days in space on Wednesday. ?I think we have taken a big step in making it a truly international space station.?

Whitson and Malenchenko are due to return to Earth with Yi Saturday, with landing targeted for about 4:27 a.m. EDT (0827 GMT) on the Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan.

They are leaving behind crewmate Garret Reisman, who will join Volkov and Kononenko for the first stage of the six-month Expedition 17 mission. A devoted Yankees fan, Reisman will throw out the ceremonial opening pitch for Wednesday night's game between his beloved team and the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium in New York City from aboard the ISS.

?I?ve really just enjoyed hanging out with both Peggy and Yuri,? Reisman said. ?We?ve had a lot of laughs and some really good times.?

NASA will broadcast the undocking and landing of Yi and the station?s Expedition 16 crew live on NASA TV beginning Friday at 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 April 19 GMT). Click here for ISS mission updates and NASA TV feed.

The Korean news service Yonhap contributed to this report.