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Russia's Space Agency confirmed on Wednesday the new composition
Russia's Space Agency confirmed on Wednesday the new composition of the main and back-up crews for the 17th International Space Station (ISS) expedition.

The main crew, scheduled to lift off on April 8, 2008 on board the Soyuz TMA-12 craft, will comprise Russian cosmonauts Commander Sergei Volkov and Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko, and the first South Korean female astronaut, Yi So-yeon.

The decision to send So-yeon, 29, to the ISS instead of Ko San was made following a last-minute swap over allegations that the main candidate broke rules at the Russian training center near Moscow.

The head of the South Korean government's Korea Astronaut Program confirmed on Wednesday that Ko San acquired pilot's instructions that he was not authorized to read, as his main mission in space is to carry out scientific experiments.

"We confirm that Ko San was caught twice carrying documentation that was not related to his training for the 10-day expedition to the ISS," Choi Gi Hyuk said.

Ko San, a 30-year-old South Korean robotics specialist from the research center of electronics giant Samsung, has been assigned as part of the back-up crew, which also includes Russian cosmonauts Maxim Surayev and Oleg Skripochka.

The Russian Space Agency welcomed the change, although said it was up to South Korea to make such decisions.

Speaking at a news conference after the announcement of the new 17th expedition crew, Ko San expressed regret over the incident.

"First of all, I would like to apologize to the staff at the cosmonaut training center and to all Korean people for what happened," he said in Russian. "But I want to assure you that I had no intention of violating the rules. I simply wanted to learn more about the flight."

Meanwhile, a source close to Roscosmos said that the last-minute swap of Korean astronauts caused a number of problems for the flight preparation.

He said Yi So-yeon, unlike Ko San, practically does not speak Russian and was not trained as thoroughly as her colleague because he had always been the main mission candidate.

A $25-milion contract for a Korean astronaut to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) was signed between Russia and South Korea in December 2006.

South Korea held a national competition to select an astronaut. Several candidates underwent training at the Gagarin center in Russia under a separate contract.

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