National aspirations, imagined futures, and space exploration: The origin and development of Korean Space Program 1958-2013

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An, Hyoung Joon Hyoung
Krige, John
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The goal of my dissertation is to describe the history of the South Korean1 space program and to use it to offer some insights on reframing space history from a global point of view. South Korea is a new player among the space faring nations. While some of the necessary infrastructure was put in place in the 30 years after the launch of Sputnik, the country only really made a commitment space in the 1990s, developing rapidly to become a significant presence today. The launch of KITsat-1 (Uribyul-1, the first Korean satellite) in 1992 marks its first major achievement, after which it built up its technological capabilities in the space sector in a relatively short period. South Korea now has twelve satellites and operates several space projects, and successfully developed its first space launch vehicle, KSLV-1, also known as Naro, in 2013. Although KSLV-1 is derived from the first stage of the Russian Angara rocket, combined with a solid-fueled second stage built by South Korea, its successful launch was the crucial step for the development of the country’s civilian space program. South Korea aims to develop the first wholly Korean-made launch rocket, KSLV-2 by 2020, which will additionally be used to launch a moon orbiter later that year. Korea’s recent aspiration to space exploration can be seen as part of global narrative in which the conquest of space is not dominated by a few superpowers. Our understanding of the past half-century of space development is, however, still firmly rooted in the framework of the old Cold-War-centered approach to space history. Until recently, only large and powerful nations have been able to mobilize the resources necessary for access to space, so the early years of space exploration produced a simple narrative: a fierce space competition between the Soviet Union and the U. S., with a few countries following behind in a struggle to increase their presence in space. Yet emerging powers’ stories of space development were barely noticed in comparison with the abundant literature on the space history of the super-powers and the increasing literature on middle-range space powers. In order to situate the South Korean space program in this evolving global context, this dissertation attempts to answer the following critical questions: What is the origin of Korean space development? Why is South Korea a late-comer in space, and why is it becoming more active today? How have its motivations and rationales evolved in defining relationships with other countries including the U.S., Russia, France, China, Japan, and even North Korea? Why does it continue to emphasize the need for “Korean” technology in space? In essence, what is Korean about the Korean space program? I seek answers to these questions by examining the relationship between a “space program” and “the construction of national identity” in a political, social, and transnational context. Through historical analysis, I will show that South Korea’s space program has been primarily driven by nationalistic rationales implicit in the argument that space development served “modernization,” “self-defense,”, “economic security”, and “national prestige.” By tracing the multiple links between technological prowess and national imagination, I connect these four rationales using to periodization; 1950s~1960s, 1970~1984, 1985~1997, and 1998~2013. A close examination of the history of the development of space exploration in South Korea offers a fertile ground for exploring the question how the rationales of space development have evolved as the Korean state worked on nation-building in a global context.
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