On Aug. 9, the space shuttle Discovery docked at the International Space Station. It was the first launch since the Columbia disaster. The media praised NASA for overcoming the tragedy and for its brilliant achievement. The docking attracted all over the world's attention.
Koreans were impressed as well. We wondered at the success, and praised it. Then, many Koreans started to be interested in our own space program. In fact, we didn't know much about it till now.
Indeed, many Koreans wonder if our space program will have a substantial effect on our lives. The Post met Dr. Hwang Do-soon, the head of Overall Coordination Department in the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, in order to have a better understanding of our program.
The Space Race, One of National Competitive Power
Post: I heard that a space center is under construction in Goheung and a ground station was built on Jeju. What do these have to do with our program?
Hwang: Jeju Ground Station will observe a satellite launched in Goheung. The Science and Technology Satellite-2 will be launched in 2007 at Goheung Space Center as well. From now on, we won't have to borrow another country's launcher.
Post: How in the space program proceeding?
Hwang: "'The Mid & Long-term National Space Development Plan,' which is proceeding now, is divided into three programs; Satellite, Launch Vehicle Program, and Space Research Development & International Cooperation. The Launch Vehicle Program aims to "Make satellites by our own hands, and launch them by our own technologies in our own land." Because Space Research Development & International Cooperation is needed large-scale expenses and technologies, we should prepare several international conventions.
Post: Please give us examples of how substantial profits can be made through the space development program. Many people are concerned about the expense of the program.
Hwang: From late the 60s to early 70s, space programs were a barometer to indicate national competitive power. That a country was able to relay via satellite was important. But now, there are telecommunication, TV relay, the Internet, GPS, private programs, and so on. In the short term, we will benefit from not having to buy foreign technology. We can save a lot of money. In the long term, we can develop new medicines, and solve resource problems.
Korean government, however, has not supported the program with enough money -- only about 200～300 billion won out of 100-trillion-won national budget. This is not much compared with the USA and the EU. But we are just getting started. If we endeavor, we will find a niche in space technology. Space programs need huge budgets, but the potential return on investment is huge, as well.
Why Space Development Program?
Post: Many who oppose its development say that we should not invest so much in a space program.
Hwang: Of course, it's expensive. But the Europeans became world leaders through the Age of Exploration 500 years ago. And the people who invest in space exploration will lead the world. We should explore the universe because it is filled with resources. The special conditions of the universe, such as vacuum or extreme temperatures, will be ideal conditions for developing new medicines and materials. Remember, we are just beginning to invest in the space program. Other nations have been doing it for years and years. We don't want to be left out of outer space. We have to invest, now.
Post: Are there any problems that threaten human dignity in space development?
Hwang: In fact, there are several problems with space development. The ability of GPS to be used as an electric passport can be abused by those with selfish interests.
It is, however, not reason enough to stop the space program. It seems that such problems will appear about 100 years from now, and those will be solved by that time. The space development program does not contain any human limits, only technical difficulties. Who knows? We may be able to go to the moon by elevator.
Steady Enthusiasm Toward Space
Post: The program will take lots of time, money, and human resource, won't it?
Hwang: Indeed, we need human resources. According to a statistical report, we will need about 4,500 workers until 2015. So it is essential for industry, the academy, and researchers to cooperate, because it is essential to get fundamental technologies. Therefore, major and minor companies are required to share their technologies. We need electronic and mechanical engineering students, and non-engineering -- such as linguistic and social science -- students as well.
Post: Lastly, how is this plan progressing in your view?
Hwang: There are many problems awaiting solutions such as international cooperation, foundation technology, planet exploration, participation of International Space Station Construction, etc. To solve these problems, we should gain other countries' trust. We are not equipped to train astronauts, so we entrust the task to other countries. It is urgent to establish related programs in order to send Korean astronauts into space.
The most important thing is people's constant interest. But their interest ebbs and flows. And then they may forget the importance of space development.
Dr. Hwang stressed again.
"Advanced space nations will continue to lead us. Especially since our space program is only fifteen years old. However, I believe we can overcome the gap by steady research. If people and the government stay interested, I'm sure Korean space development will be successful."
Lee Seon-a email@example.com
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