South Korea launched a rocket into space from its own territory for the first time on Tuesday, but the mission failed to put a satellite into its intended orbit, a South Korean official said.
The launching of the rocket, which was built with the help of Russia, came one week after an initial attempt was called off because of a technical malfunction and four months after North Korea was widely denounced by the international community for launching a rocket of its own. The North had said it was putting a satellite aloft, but United States aerospace and military officials said they believed the North was actually testing long-range ballistic missile technology.
Office buildings in central Seoul echoed with cheers as the rocket, Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1, or Naro-1, blasted off from South Korea’s space center on the central south coast, New York Times informs.
Ministry and space agency officials believe the 100-kilogram (220-pound) satellite was probably destroyed in the earth’s atmosphere, Vice Minister of Education, Science and Technology Kim Jung Hyun said.
The 140-ton Naro rocket, partly designed by Russia, lifted off from an island off the southern coast of South Korea yesterday. South Korea has spent about 500 billion won ($400 million) on its space program since 2002, including 312.5 billion won to build the Naro Space Center since 2005, reports Bloomberg.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called the launch a "half success."
"We must further strive to realize the dream of becoming a space power," Lee said, according to his office. Among Asian countries, China has conducted three manned space flights, and Japan and India have launched satellites into space.
Kim Tae-woo, a senior analyst of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said that despite the North's stance, Tuesday's launch was unlikely to have major implications on inter-Korean relations.
In recent weeks, the North has become markedly more conciliatory toward both the United States and South Korea.
Earlier this month, it freed two American journalists following a trip to Pyongyang by former President Bill Clinton. It has also freed a South Korean detainee, agreed to lift restrictions on border crossings with the South and resume suspended inter-Korean projects in industry and tourism, The Associated Press reports.