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2008/04/08 16:11 KST
Astronaut tests aimed at enhancing space science, biotech

   SEOUL, April 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's first astronaut, set to blast off later in the day, will conduct experiments aimed at enhancing mankind's knowledge of space and the biotech sector, the government said Tuesday.

   Experiments, to be conducted by 29-year-old Yi So-yeon upon docking at the International Space Station, will center on finding ways to reduce high noise levels inside space stations, observing atmospheric conditions and using the weightless environment to help determine natural ageing processes.

   A total of 18 experiments are to be carried out during her stay in the orbiting space station, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said.

   It also said the woman astronaut, who is expected to reach the space station on Thursday and return to earth on April 19, will carry out tests that could help in the cultivation of microbes and use a specially designed scale to weigh objects in space.

   Experts said that high noise levels -- caused by the need to lighten loads of objects going into space -- have posed serious problems in terms of comfort and safety, with many astronauts suffering from sleep deprivation.

   Yi will take a noise monitoring device up in the Soyuz spacecraft to determine exact noise levels inside the ISS, which may give a better picture of how to alleviate this problem.

   The researcher at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) will also take detailed photos of atmospheric conditions on earth and over the Korean Peninsula, including of the yellow sand that blows in from mainland China and Mongolia during spring time.

   Yi will also, with the help of locally built equipment sent to the space station, conduct biological experiments including observing the effect of weightlessness on fruit flies and detecting genes linked to aging in insects.

   She will then conduct tests on microbes using very weak gravity conditions on the space station to discover ways of enhancing cultivation processes.

   Other tests that are to be carried out are ways to make better zeolites compounds. This synthetic material is widely used in water purification and has the potential to provide a precise and specific separation of gases, including the removal of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide from other gases.

   The ministry meanwhile said last month that all the locally constructed scientific equipment that will be used in space have received final approval from the Russian authorities.

   It said the certification, by the likes of Energia Rocket and Space Corporation and the Institute for Biomedical Problems, is a noteworthy testament to the know-how acquired by South Korean engineers in the past, despite the country's relatively short space development history.

   yonngong@yna.co.kr
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