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The final frontier?

Oct 07,2019
On January 30, 2013 at 4 p.m., KSLV-1 Naro was launched from the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla. It became the first Korean contribution to space. It was the moment when Korea became the 11th member of the “space club,” countries launching a space rocket with their own technologies.

On November 28, 2018 at 4 p.m. — five years and 10 months later — the Nuri rocket, which Korea is independently developing, flew into the sky. It was an event marking Korean aerospace technology’s progress from the Naro, which had a main engine imported from Russia.

A celebration of the events that excited the nation six years and eight months ago will soon be held, when the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) opens the Naro Space Center to the public. KARI is accepting applications on its website for 2,160 people to tour the space center on Oc. 12 and 13.

Located on the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula, Goheung has made its name as the launch site for Naro. With a goal to promote Goheung’s connection with all things aerospace, the county has been promoting various events.

But there are many challenges to Goheung’s ambitions, such as an aging population and population declines. People are leaving agricultural areas. According to the Korea Employment Information Service, among 228 cities, counties and districts in the country, Goheung has the second highest risk of actually disappearing after Uiseong in North Gyeongsang due to its rapidly decreasing population.

Some say that refashioning a rural county into a “space city” is a stretch to begin with. There is little tourism or industrial activity related to space. Except for the times when rockets are launched, people have little interest.

Opening the space center to the public is aimed at celebrating the 30th anniversary of KARI. It is an occasion to prove that Naro’s success did not happen overnight. KARI desperately wants to make the Naro Space Center something similar to NASA. In order to make Goheung a new Houston — the center of international space tourism — it needs continued support from the people as well as central and local governments.