| The third time was the charm. South Korea successfully launched its first space rocket Naro after two failed attempts, raising the country`s status as a science and technology powerhouse. The nine-minute process, from ignition to separation of the satellite, was perfectly accomplished and marked the country`s first expansion into space in its 5,000-year history. Scientists at Korea Aerospace Research Institute deserve praise for their efforts and performance.
Success was finally achieved after two failed attempts and a number of delays. On Dec. 12 last year, North Korea did one better than South Korea by launching the Unha 3 rocket with its own technology. Rocket development is considered a barometer of a country`s science and technology capability. U.S. President John F. Kennedy infused new hope into a depressed American people in 1961 by pledging to send an astronaut to the moon before 1970. In the Cold War era of the 1950s, the U.S. and the Soviet Union competed in a space race through rocket development. South Korea`s Naro project began under the Roh Moo-hyun administration and bore fruit under the succeeding government of President Lee Myung-bak. The Naro is expected to integrate the people as they await the launch of the new government under President-elect Park Geun-hye.
The latest success has enabled South Korea to secure technologies and experience in developing a rocket, including launch vehicle system design and assembly and ground-launching know-how. Two prior failures were bitter pills. Rocket development is accompanied by trial and error. Developed countries upgraded technology by analyzing their failures. The U.S., Russia, Japan and China underwent a series of failures before securing advanced rocket technology.
Strictly speaking, Naro is a half success. The first-stage rocket was imported from Russia, while the science satellite that helped the rocket go into orbit weighs just 100 kilograms. The satellite rotates on an oval orbit, meaning there is a limit. The world`s low-orbit rocket launches satellites weighing at least 500 kilograms. The next rocket for South Korea, the KSLV-2, will hopefully be launched in 2021 and will put into orbit a 1.5-ton working satellite up to 700 kilometers above land. If the domestically produced rocket project succeeds, South Korea will become a true space powerhouse. This requires steady investment and public tolerance of potential failures.
Disputes on space development will grow more heated despite the success of the Naro. Opponents say an astronomical amount of money cannot be spent at a time when fiscal demand for welfare is surging. Rocket development, however, is not simply a matter of economic logic. Having rocket technology raises national status and the people`s pride, and induces the growth of high value-added industries and quality jobs. As North Korea`s Unha 3 proved, a rocket equals military technology and defense power. President-elect Park in a TV debate last year pledged to put the national flag on the moon. Space development requires huge investment and a clear vision to gain the people`s trust.