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[Editorial] A Baby Step Toward Space

Posted August. 26, 2009 08:21,   


Three, two, one, liftoff. Korea’s first space rocket Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1, or Naro-1, lifted off energetically toward space. Koreans wowed and applauded in unison upon hearing that the rocket blasted off after seven delays. The nation has accordingly opened a new chapter in its quest for space development.

Critics say, however, that the launch was a half-baked success since Korea borrowed the first-phase rocket from Russia by paying 200 million U.S. dollars. All other parts, however, including the phase-two rocket, computers, fuel tank and the satellite, were produced using homegrown technology. Admittedly, Korea is far behind in personnel and money than other countries that started space development a long time ago.

NASA of the U.S. has 18,000 staff and the Indian Space Research Organization 16,000. In comparison, the Korea Aerospace Research Institute has just 670 workers. The launch of the Naro-1 is thus a truly phenomenal achievement allowing Korea to demonstrate its burgeoning space science and technology to the world, and lay the foundation to join the league of countries with advanced space development programs.

A space launch vehicle is an integration of cutting-edge technology that requires both high precision and mega scale. The vehicle had more than 300,000 parts and components, and those numerous parts had to be organically interlinked precisely and function seamlessly to achieve liftoff. Japan and China are in an intense space race of their own because space development is a matter of national pride, entailing the development of cutting-edge technology.

Korea has launched 11 satellites since 1992, but had to use space stations and launch pads in other countries. Through the launch of the Naro-1, Korean researchers have had the chance to learn the entire process of rocket design, development, assembly, launch and operation. This offered them important lessons in their space development efforts and other follow-up work. More than 160 companies also participated in the development and production of the launch vehicle, which is expected to make important contributions to the expansion of state-of-the-art technology based on industry-academia cooperation.

Experts say the launch will add economic and industrial generating effects worth 2.34 trillion won (1.9 billion dollars) to Korea. More importantly, the launch has enhanced national pride in Korea and helped raise the country’s national brand ranking. The pride of being citizens of a country that developed its own rocket will add giant momentum to Korea in its advance into the league of advanced nations. Analysts say China’s launch of its manned spacecraft Shenzhou effectively enhanced that country’s national brand as much as the Beijing Olympics did.

Considering the huge gap between Korea and space powerhouses, the Naro-1’s launch is just the first step in Korea’s long journey toward space. The launch of a “clone Naro” is set for next year and that of the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-2, a long cherished dream, is scheduled for 2018. Another task is to reduce Korea’s technological dependence on Russia, which proved to be a major problem in the Naro-1’s launch, and to secure technological independence. The space industry is a new technology source creating national wealth in the 21st century. Korea has taken its first baby step on its long journey toward space.