Step by step into space

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Step by step into space

I’ve visited many places in the United States as a correspondent, but I never felt the country’s power more strongly than at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. That’s where the Apollo spacecraft were launched to explore the Moon in the 1960s. Now, it’s the dream factory for a manned mission to Mars by the year 2025.

The Kennedy Space Center is the past, present and future of America’s space program. A rocket that has been to the Moon is on display there, and visitors can actually stand on the rocket launcher. When I visited the space center recently, I became very emotional thinking about Korea’s successful launch of the Naro rocket and deployment of its satellite.

The Kennedy Space Center is also an educational facility. It has a rocket launch experience center and you can talk to real astronauts over dinner. I was a foreigner there, but I felt deeply moved by a film about their history of reaching into space.

Many other viewers were crying out of patriotism and American pride. The voice of former President John F. Kennedy still lingers in my ears.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Every year, nearly two million people visit the space center and go home with dreams of space exploration. Many become avid supporters of the space program.

Even more impressive was that failures were addressed along with successes. The space center exhibits the history of its errors without alteration or concealment. On Feb. 1, an event in memory of the Columbia disaster was held. In 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere and all seven crew members were killed. Colleagues who attended the event recalled that the entire NASA staff was determined never to repeat such a failure, and the challenge to overcome it became the foundation of future endeavors.

Last month, because of budget cuts from the economic crisis, the Kennedy Space Center put a rocket launch platform up for sale. It’s also selling an aircraft assembly plant and a part of a control tower. Other items on the sales list include desks, chairs and office supplies. They want to supplement the budget in order to continue the space exploration program. This represents the stark financial reality of space programs.

While the successful launch of Korea’s space rocket elevated national pride, the road ahead is long and rough. Even though we are in a rush, there are no shortcuts. Space technology is the aggregation of national competitiveness and science technology. But we can’t give up. We don’t want to miss out on the new technology and economic impact of the space industry.

Becoming a space power is not free. Progress is made step by step over a history of tears and failures. In order to get through the hard journey, we need to share the dream. The Kennedy Space Center illustrates the truth of space missions.

The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Sang-bok

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