By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Alki Elementary principal Rena Deese told her students that this morning’s guest speaker was there to inspire: “She went to space, and you can do whatever your dream is!”
But Dr. Soyeon Yi – who made history as the first (and only, so far) South Korean in space – was entertaining, too, especially as she explained the particulars of, let’s just say, bodily functions in space.
Dr. Yi spent 11 days on the International Space Station in April 2008 after winning a competition – with more than 36,000 entrants! – to be South Korea’s first astronaut. As she told the Alki Elementary students, who sat rapt in the gym for her half-hour appearance, Korea had a “relationship” with Russia, so that’s where she trained. Hardest thing? Learning the Russian language, she said.
A favorite memory from that “relationship” – support from cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who in 1963 became the first woman to go into space. During Dr. Yi’s training, Tereshkova encouraged her in a sort of grandmotherly way, she told the students. And she was there for the launch. You can see the blastoff in this Science Channel report on Dr. Yi:
What she misses most about space, she told the Alki students, is the view of Earth – you can look at photos or videos of that view, she explained, but nothing matches seeing it with your own eyes.
While in space, she also did science experiments, meditated, and, she noted, had fun. In zero gravity, she observed, you can look like you’re flying, so you can pose as a superhero! She even sang in space, and played what she called “the evidence” – a recording of her singing “Fly Me to the Moon” aboard the ISS. On a more somber note, she said, all those who go into space are “ambassadors of a peaceful Earth,” showing a photo of herself holding the flag o the United Nations, whose secretary-general at the time was South Korea’s Ban Ki-moon.
After a few more space stories, such as the bodily-function discussion (takeaway: don’t forget to turn on the suction pump!), she talked to the students about gratitude – “remember you always have something to be grateful for.”
The Alki Elementary PTA, for one, was grateful for Dr. Yi’s visit, underwritten by money raised at their annual auction, including a private lunch with two families at recently opened Outer Space Seattle a few hours after her presentation:
Several years after her space trip, Dr. Yi moved to the U.S., and according to this online bio, now lives in Puyallup.