[FOUNTAIN]Missiles and starry dreams

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[FOUNTAIN]Missiles and starry dreams

Among the pioneers of rocketry, many were impressed by the science fiction in their youth. Wernher von Braun (1912-1977) of Germany, who developed the V-2, the first modern rocket, was an avid reader of "Round the Moon," by Jules Verne (1828-1905) and "The First Men in the Moon," by H. G. Wells (1866-1946). Mr. Braun's teacher, Hermann Oberth, read "From the Earth to the Moon," by Mr. Verne. Robert H. Goddard, called the "father of America's modern rocketry," received a gift from his father at the age of five: "War of the Worlds," by Mr. Wells.

Rockets and missiles have the same basic structure. But missiles are weapons with warheads. Germany led the early competition for missile development, because, ironically, the nation's military was slashed after its defeat in World War I (1914-1918). The victors forced Germany to reduce its military strength from 9 million men to 100,000 men. They also forced the country to abolish its air force. They banned Germany from constructing long-range artillery.

But Germany found loopholes in the Treaty of Versailles and started developing ballistic missiles based on rocket science, which was just in the initial stages then. The development led to the V-2 missile. During World War II, from September 1944 to March 1945, about 4,300 V-2 missiles were launched toward London and other European cities. About 2,500 people died in London alone as a result of the attacks.

At the end of World War II, America took into custody 180 German scientists, including Mr. von Braun, and the facilities of the V-2 missile plant, to the United States. The Soviet Union followed, recruiting about 200 German rocket scientists in October 1946.

In the heated competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for missile development, the Soviet Union remade the "Wasserfall (waterfall)" rocket, which Nazi Germany developed in 1943, to create the world's best seller, "Scud A."

A North Korean cargo vessel was seized and then released by the U.S. and Spanish navies this week as it carried a shipment of Scud missiles to Yemen. The United States reversed course, saying the cargo was indeed legal. The North Korean scientists who are redesigning the Scud missiles for export might have read the science fiction of Mr. Verne and Mr. Wells, dreaming of a journey to the stars. I wonder what they think about the situation.

The writer is a deputy foreign news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

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