[FOUNTAIN]A ‘new vision’ of exploring outer spaceGerman scientist Wernher von Braun became interested in rockets after he read a science fiction book, “A Trip to the Moon,” when he was 12. It was the Nazi government under Adolf Hitler that helped him pursue his dream. Walter Dornberger, an officer in an artillery regiment, picked Mr. von Braun to develop a long-range missile with liquid fuel. The scientist worked on the missile, the V-2, during World War II, and in the last days of the war the new weapon rained down on London.
The post-war arms race between the United States and Soviet Union fueled a competition for German rocket scientists. Having learned the destructive power of missiles and nuclear weapons, Washington and Moscow began to wonder if they could inflict a fatal blow on the enemy by combining the two weapons. Mr. von Braun defected to the United States and led the Cold War-era arms race by developing rocket technology and making inter-continental ballistic missiles.
Mr. von Braun was able to make the dream of going to the moon come true, but the background was hardly romantic. When both Washington and Moscow were equipped with nuclear-armed missiles, the most urgent task was to create a surveillance system that could detect a preemptive attack. The most solid way was to watch from space. Thus, a rocket equipped with a surveillance satellite instead of a warhead was launched into space.
The Soviet Union also began a full-fledged space program and successfully launched the first manned spaceship in April 1961. In the following month, the United States launched the Freedom 7, a manned space capsule. President John F. Kennedy said that the U.S. space program would send a man to the moon before the decade ended.
The seemingly unattainable dream of going to the moon came true in July 1969. Saturn V, the rocket that launched Apollo 11, was the product of Mr. von Braun’s research.
After Apollo 17 returned to Earth in 1972, trips to the moon were forgotten. Going to the moon was no longer a dream, and there was no longer any interest in such projects. But more than 30 years later, President George W. Bush has brought the issue up again. He is speaking of going to the moon, Mars and beyond. The space dream is outdated, but the political rhetoric of a “new vision” remains the same.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.