South Korea’s first astronaut brings her STEM story to Stanwood

Former Everett Community College physics instructor Yi So-yeon flew to the International Space Station in 2008 for nine days in space.

And then nearly died coming back to Earth.

So-yeon Yi, South Korea's first astronaut
Yi So-yeon is coming to Stanwood to talk about her experience as South Korea’s first and only astronaut to fly to the International Space Station.

Yi will share her story as South Korea’s first and still only astronaut from 4-6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Stanwood High School Performing Arts Center, 7400 272nd St. NW, Stanwood.

The event is now sold out. Tickets are required for admission. Doors open at 3 p.m. with pre-event musical guests and STEM activities. Seating is first come, first served.

In 2006, Yi was working on a doctoral degree in biological science at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology when she was named by South Korea’s space program as one of two finalists selected from 36,000 applicants to train in Russia for a flight to the International Space Station.

On April 8, 2008, Yi flew in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station. Over the mission’s nine days, she carried out 18 experiments and medical tests for the Korea Aerospace Research Institute.

On the return trip with American astronaut Peggy Whitson and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko in the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft, the equipment and re-entry modules didn’t properly separate before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.

TMA-11 took a ballistic atmospheric re-entry trajectory that subjected Whitson, Malenchenko and Yi to nearly 16Gs of force, or 16 times the force of gravity, compared to normal Soyuz re-entry force of 4.5Gs. TMA-11 had a rough landing in Kazakhstan 260 miles from its target. Kazakh nomads were the first to find the wayward Soyuz capsule.

Yi left the South Korean space program in 2014, then taught physics at Everett Community College in 2016. She now works with South Korean-based Studio XID and California-based Loft Orbital Solutions. Now a Puyallup resident, Yi nurtures the next generation of STEM leaders with motivational speeches at community colleges and lectures at the University of Washington. She earned a Ph.D. from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business.

Co-sponsors of Yi’s Stanwood visit are the Community Resource Center of Stanwood Camano, City of Stanwood and Sno-Isle Libraries.