[Outlook]Preserving our scientific heritage

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[Outlook]Preserving our scientific heritage

In 2004, the body of an old light aircraft was discovered in the storage room of a high school. It was Korea’s first light aircraft, the Buhwal, which means resurrection. The aircraft was made in 1953 and used for training flights until the early 1960s. Forty-three years later, the remains were rediscovered and restored. The Buhwal is now on display on the campus of the Korea Air Force Academy. It was also registered as a cultural heritage item last year.

Korea’s first satellite was the Uribyeol-1. As most Koreans know, the satellite was launched successfully in 1992 and remained in operation until late 2004, much longer than its design should have allowed. But in a discussion of the history of Korean satellites, the Uribyeol-1 is not the only thing that should be mentioned.

A satellite was the work that earned the top award at a science fair held in the 1960s, which drew elementary, middle and high school students from across the country. The winning design was by Gyeonggi Mec-Tec High School’s science club, which was led by a teacher named Jang Seung-ho. This satellite was no simplified model; it was designed to work properly if launched into orbit. It was equipped with devices to measure fine dust and radiation in space, a transmitter-receiver and devices for biological experiments.

Satellites are objects that are launched into an orbit around the Earth, and they don’t require high-tech equipment. Space development can be divided into two major categories; building rockets or launchers and designing satellites. The latter is relatively less expensive, which is why our country developed the Uribyeol-1 before making our own rocket. To launch it, we borrowed an Ariane rocket from the European Space Agency.

If a satellite must be launched into an orbit and function successfully to be truly accepted as one, the satellite that was presented at the science fair in the 1960s was nothing but a model as it was not sent by a rocket. In a sense, it was ahead of its time. If that same satellite could have been loaded onto a rocket and shot into an orbit, and if it were to function successfully, it could have been Korea’s first satellite, couldn’t it? However, no one seems to know where this satellite is now, except we have a single black and white photo of it. I wonder if the teacher or students who participated in building it might even be reading this column.

Although it failed to be recorded as Korea’s first successful satellite launched into an orbit, the Uribyeol-1 was built only three years after Sputnik, which is good enough to be remembered in the history of Korea’s space development.

It’s not too late for us to participate in the development of space. As early as the 1950s, Inha University College of Engineering conducted several rocket test launches. Korea Air Force Academy and the Agency for Defense Development continued to carry out research, and in the late 1970s a guided missile was successfully launched. Regretfully, since the fifth republic, such efforts could not be continued.

A Korean rocket was to be launched in the first half of this year at the Naro Space Center in South Jeolla Province but it has been postponed again because the project is fully dependant on cooperation from Russia. Hearing news like that, one feels an extra tinge of regret that our attempts at space development were stopped at one point.

When we think about it, this is true not only of our attempts to get to space. Our cultural history around science has also not yet been resolved. There is no academic research about the history of scientific magazines, for example.

Our first step toward becoming an advanced country in science and technology should be to inspire and motivate children who want to become scientists. We must find a way to preserve the pieces of our scientific heritage that are scattered across the country and forgotten.

*The writer is a representative for Omelas, a publishing imprint. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Sang-joon
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