Self-reliant rocket science

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Self-reliant rocket science


The name “Angara” may be familiar to those of you who have followed the preparations for Korea’s first carrier rocket launch. But its origins show an important lesson for Koreans.

There are 336 rivers and streams that flow into Lake Baikal in Siberia. However, the Angara is the only river flowing out of Lake Baikal.

There is a huge rock where the Angara River and Lake Baikal merge into one another. It is called a “Shaman Stone,” where shamans perform a ritual ceremony to the god Baikal.

Local legend goes that Baikal was the father of 336 sons, but only one daughter, named Angara. Baikail found a fiance for Angara named Irkut, but she loved another youth named Yenisey. And before the wedding, Angara ran away to her lover. Enraged at Angara’s insolence, Baikal broke off a peak of the Sayan Mountains and threw it at his fugitive daughter, trying to block her way. She was trapped and her tears formed a river, heading for north toward the Yenisey River 1,800 kilometers (1,118 miles) away.

Outside of the realm of folktales, the Angara River also has a painful history. It served as a route for conquests by the Mongol Empire and a route for Russian imperial expansion. The bodies of dead indigenous people were used to form an island in the river.

Since 1957, during the deep winter of the Cold War, Angara was used as a code name indicating the construction of a secret nuclear missile facility aimed at the Western world. If we think in terms of Lake Baikal representing the Soviet Union, and the Shaman Stone standing in for a nuclear warhead, it is a meaningful code name.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was revived as the name of Russia’s new peacetime rocket project. The Angara project’s strength lies in Russia’s endeavors toward self-reliance. They want to complete a system for space development within Russian territory by resolving all problems on its own, without relying on hardware and launching sites scattered across the former Soviet Union.

The Naro-1, or KSLV-I (Korea Space Launch Vehicle-I), Korea’s first carrier rocket - which was scheduled to be launched this coming Tuesday, but was postponed - is said to transform the Angara rocket being developed by Russia and use it as the first phase rocket. Despite us funding the rocket, Russia has refused to share any technological information with us, essentially strengthening their own capabilities at our expense.

Koreans should take some lessons from the legend and history of Angara. First, the firm resolution of Angara, who pursued her love against all odds. And second, the spirit of self-reliance in the Angara project that tries to launch a rocket only using Russian-made components and facilities, without relying on state-of-the-art capabilities left over from the former Soviet Union.

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

By Hoh Kui-Seek []
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