[Viewpoint] To boldly go...

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[Viewpoint] To boldly go...

The launch of Korea’s first spacecraft, Naro-1, is fast approaching, an event the country has been anticipating for months.

We all wish for good weather on the day of the launch, July 30.

But we have to remember that any venture into space is fraught with challenges. For the launch to be a success, we have to hope for a smooth injection of liquid oxygen, for the fuel not to degenerate in the course of the long journey, for the first-stage rocket engine to work properly, for the two-part spacecraft to be separated without trouble, for the navigation and guidance control system to work properly, and for the satellite to separate from the rocket smoothly.

And most of all, for the space technology to continue to progress with the continuous support of the public, regardless of the ultimate success of the rocket.

An automobile is made up of about 10,000 parts, but a spacecraft requires about 300,000. To get all those working parts to function at the right time without any complications is a reflection of a country’s scientific and technological capacity.

Think of it like this: With the launch of Naro-1, Korea is making a debut in the global technology Olympics.

However, we have to keep in mind that space technology is highly risky. The countries with advanced space technology such as the United States, Russia and Japan have invested a tremendous amount of time and money to develop their own brand of rockets, learning from things that went wrong along the way.

When you look at the history of rocket science, there were plenty of failures at first.

Dr. Robert Goddard pioneered rocket research in 1910, and right after World War II ended, the U.S. brought over the rocket research team called Peenemunde, led by German scientist Wernher von Braun, and began rocket development in full.

After a series of failures, the United States finally succeeded in launching a small satellite in January 1958.

Russia began its rocket research in the 1940s. After the end of World War II, Russia invited the remaining members of the Peenemunde team. Russia successfully launched its Sputnik satellite in October 1957.

Britain was the first to begin a space program in Europe, immediately after the end of World War II. It launched rockets brought from Peenemunde several times, but none of them reached space.

The Europeans put their first satellite into space in 1988, 13 years after the European Space Agency was established.

Clearly, we need to appreciate that any space program is bound to go wrong at some stage.

The problem is not a matter of the success and failure of a single launch but how to continuously develop the space program.

True failure is to abandon the space program altogether, and true success is to promote the project more aggressively.

Success lies in the hands of the general public now.

When Seoul National University was founded in 1947, an American advisor suggested that the engineering school would only need four engineering departments - mechanical, electrical, chemical and civil.

What he meant was that the school did not need to offer other majors such as electronic engineering or naval architecture since there is no possibility that Korea would ever produce radios or build ships.

If we had given up certain fields because of a lack of capacity at a particular time, Korea’s shipbuilding, automobile and electronic industries would not have accomplished the glorious successes that the country enjoys today.

In 1986, there was a survey looking at the nationalities of students on Ph.D. programs in aerospace engineering in the United States.

Surprisingly, one-fifth were Koreans, and scientists with a Korean background make up a considerable part of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA.

It means that Korea already has high quality human resources in this field, and Korea has sufficient potential to succeed in terms of talent and possibilities.

Hoping for a successful launch of Korea’s first rocket loading a Korean satellite from Korean territory, I dream of a journey to the Moon and Mars with the continued support and assistance of the government and citizens.

*The writer is a professor of aerospace engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

by Park Chul
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