Yi So-yeon
Yi So-yeon became the first Korean in space in 2008 (Getty)

The entire South Korean space programme has been forced to shut down after its only astronaut resigned for personal reasons.

Yi So-yeon, 36, became the first Korean in space in 2008 after the engineer was chosen by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to lead the country's 6 billion won ($25.4m, £14.9m) space project.

She spent 10 days in space with two Russian cosmonauts after the two countries reportedly agreed a fee of around £11.9m to let her fly the Soyuz TMA-12 spacecraft to the International Space Station.

During the mission, her role was described as Spaceflight Participant and her duties included monitoring the ways gravity changes the behaviour of 1,000 fruit flies taken on board the spacecraft in a special air-conditioned container box.

After going on leave in 2012 to study for a master's degree at the University of California, Yi has now resigned from the country's manned space programme citing personal reasons, effectively shutting down the entire operation.

Her resignation asked questions of KARI regarding whether she was the right person to lead the programme and whether the huge cost of sending her into space was a waste of taxpayers' money.

During an interview with BusinessWeek in 2013, Yi admitted South Korea had "no budget for a second mission".

Following her mission in 2008, South Korea became the third country, after the UK and Iran, to have a woman as its first space traveller.