Controversy delays space projects

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Controversy delays space projects

“Not much could be done after we were ‘branded,’” said an official from the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning on Dec. 3, the day after the National Assembly passed next year’s budget plan. He was talking about the omission of 41 billion won ($36 million) for an exploratory mission to the moon following a “budget note slip-in” controversy.

A “budget note slip-in” is used by lawmakers as a way to slip in a budget plan for their districts while reviewing the budget proposal. Lawmakers secretly submit these requests in a note to members of the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts.

The space project subsequently came under fire.

It wasn’t included in the original budget proposal by the government and was brought to the committee for discussions later. However, it’s not a project with local interests in mind. It’s a national science and technology project from the second Space Development Promotion Basic Plan, which was finalized in 2011.

It wasn’t included in the initial budget because the outcome of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning’s preliminary research came late.

Preliminary research investigates the validity of its policy, technical plausibility and economic efficiency.

But it’s hard to predict accurate demands for the space project, so a survey was conducted on citizens’ intentions to take the tax burden and opinions on the project. That’s why the survey results came in too late, but the survey outcome is what counts.

Among the 1,000 adults surveyed nationwide, 70.3 percent responded that moon exploration was necessary.

For the project, they are willing to pay “an average of 3,305 won per household for the next five years.”

So how can the budget for the space program be considered a note slipped in for specific interests?

Because the government failed to secure a budget for it, the launch of a test simulator scheduled for 2017 had to be postponed. The impact of the delay will be considerable. The test orbiter was supposed to replace the communication function of the U.S. lunar landing module to be launched in 2018. In return, the Korean government would benefit from technological cooperation with NASA.

As next year’s budget plan was processed, key members of the ruling and opposition party concentrated “budget bombs” on their districts in Busan and South Jeolla. The budget for local social overhead costs (SOC) increased by 75 billion won from the original government proposal. It is nearly twice that of the budget for moon exploration. Do politicians really have any right to accuse scientists of “note-slipping”?

The author is a national news writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

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