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The elusive frontier

Feb 01,2018
Space exploration is a product of politics anywhere in the world as it involves budgets. In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik-1, humanity’s first satellite. After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in the Cold War rivalry, and the United States feared that a missile with a nuclear warhead could attack anytime. President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican and war hero, felt his pride was hurt. In July 1958, he launched the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

John F. Kennedy won the presidential election in November 1960. Kennedy pursued the space program further. In a speech before Congress in May 1961 he declared, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” It was the beginning of the Apollo program. Despite criticism of the large budget and short timeline, Kennedy was determined. Three astronauts were killed in a fire on Apollo 1 in January 1967, but the Apollo program was a step closer to the Moon.

Then the administration changed, and the Republican Party took power. The dream planted by Kennedy bore fruit during the Republican administration under Richard Nixon. Apollo 11 successfully landed on the Moon in July 1969. The Apollo program continued until 1975 under Republican President Gerald Ford. It became the foundation of the United States as an aerospace superpower with the most advanced science and technology in the world. The beginning may have been political, but science transcended politics.

Let’s look at how Korea handles the space program. In November 2007, the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Roh Moo-hyun administration announced a space development blueprint outlining a plan to launch the first lunar orbit probe in 2020 and the second probe with a landing module in 2025. A budget was planned to allocate 3.6 trillion won ($3.37 billion) by 2016.

However, the Lee Myung-bak administration had no interest in supporting lunar exploration. Then, abruptly, Park Geun-hye declared that the Korean flag would fly on the Moon in 2020.

Park moved up the timeline by five years. Space scientists in Daejeon were astonished by the sudden change in schedule.

The administration has changed again, and the Moon Jae-in administration found bad practices involving the lunar exploration plan in the past administration. Lawmaker Park Hong-geun argued that the second part of the lunar exploration, the landing on the Moon, should be reviewed.

The space development program that will be finalized on Feb. 5 seems to give up on the landing. “If related technologies are secured,” the landing will be pursued by 2030. It is five years later than the original plan. Aerospace science in Korea is swayed by politics every five years.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 31, Page 30

*The author is a deputy industrial news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.