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[Editorial] Korea’s First Astronaut Takes “Small but Big” Step

[Editorial] Korea’s First Astronaut Takes “Small but Big” Step

Posted April. 08, 2008 06:26,   


Yi So-yeon, the nation’s first astronaut, will leave for space Tuesday on board the Russian Soyuz spacecraft from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome at 8:16 p.m. with great aspirations to venture into the unknown. The government has realized its dream of sending its citizen to space seven years after it launched a program to nurture Korean astronauts.

The space trip is truly a cause for celebration for the nation. When the United States’ Neil Armstrong walked on the moon for the first time in 1969, he said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” With Yi’s voyage into the universe, Korea will also make a significant step forward in becoming a powerful nation in aerospace.

Compared to space powers such as the United States, Russia, Japan, China and European nations, Korea is relatively a late-comer in the field. A total of 35 nations sent a combined 474 people to space before Korea. However, well begun is half-done. Korea should actively advance its position in the space competition, as it has the people’s strong support as was shown to the space trip of the nation’s first astronaut.

As good luck would have it, the construction of the Naro Space Center will be completed in Goheung County, South Jeolla Province, in September, and the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) is scheduled to blast off in December. In October 2009, the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) will be held in Daejeon with 3,000 space experts present. All these indicate higher chances of Korea’s becoming a leader in the space age.

World powers regard space explorations as the best strategy to enhance their status on the globe. Space projects with cutting-edge technologies not only serve as the driver of growth in future industries and technological development, but play a pivotal role in military strategies. Japan and China concentrate their resources on space expeditions for military reasons rather than commercial benefits. Korea Aerospace University professor Chang Yeong-geun, who also heads the space division at the Korea Science and Engineering Foundation, stressed the urgency of forming a national space policy. He said, “World powers regard space projects as a matter of their survival.”

Therefore, Korea needs strong policies to catch up with space powers. As part of such efforts, experts argue that the government should bring up the percentage of space-related budget in the nation’s total R&D allocations to 5-6 percent from the current 3 percent. The nation also needs an overarching organization that manages all its space projects, similar to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA). In addition, a national consensus must be formed if a massive budget is to be allocated with a long-term vision. Only under these circumstances can the nation’s brightest minds unleash their talent in the field. These are some of the challenges unfolding before the government and the people at a time when the nation just made a “small but big” step toward space.