There’s not many South Korean women more inspirational than Yi So-Yeon. Growing up in a small town where most employment opportunities were involved in agriculture, generations before her were forbidden from learning to read and write in order to free up time to work the land. Her passion for engineering came from watching her dad performing DIY around the house and helping him with odd jobs. This inspired her to do very well at science and engineering at school, her performances earning her a place on the gifted program at her high school. It wasn’t long until she was granted a place at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology studying Mechanical Engineering and Biosystems at Ph.D level. At one point during her Ph.D, she presented at an international event in Japan, attended by over 40 countries and she was the only female! In 2006, So-Yeon become a finalist, beating 36,000 others to get her name on seat on a Russian flight to the International Space Station.

In 2008, Yi flew to the Space Station, launching from Kazakhstan and spending 9 days in space. Her purpose there was to conduct test and experiments on fruit flies and alter the way the lack of gravity effected their behaviour. She also measured the changes to her face shape when exposed less gravity. On her return flight, an issue occurred with the shuttle craft on re-entry, resulting in the passengers experiencing gravitational forces equivalent to ten times that felt on planet Earth. This meant that the shuttle landed 260 miles away from the planned location and So-Yeon was hospitalised due to severe back pain.

Yi So-Yeon is incredibly proud that she has been able to show the women of South Korea that they can compete for roles in industries dominated by men and hopes to inspire generations to come. However, she resigned from her role in 2014, therefore ending the South Korean space program. Having recently married a Korean-American man, she felt that it was time to find a new career, settle down and study for an MBA. Yi So-Yeon is living proof that your background need not hold you back, if you want something enough and persevere to achieve it.


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