South Korea says its first successful launch Wednesday of a rocket from its own soil has opened a new era of opportunity, taking the pressure off to keep up with its rival, North Korea, on a space race.
President Lee Myung-bak hailed the launch as the first step toward opening an "era of space science" for the country, according to his spokesman.
The launch comes after at least two previously failed attempts, including one in 2009 and 2010. The rocket blasted off at 4 p.m., here, and put a science satellite into orbit, making South Korea the 13th nation to successfully put a satellite into space from its own country – just after rival North Korea surprised with its own successful launch last month.
The South had previously run up against serious US resistance to a satellite launch attempt. The US feared the development and launch of a satellite was a cover by Seoul to develop and test long-range missiles. If that were the case, worried the US, it could spark an arms race with Pyongyang.
The North's launch of a satellite in December was quickly condemned by the international community for violating UN resolutions, and was seen widely as a cover to test weapons capabilities.
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Washington is still somewhat worried about a space race with the North, says Scott Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. But after South Korea and the US reached a new missile agreement in October, allowing Seoul to develop longer-range ballistic missiles capable of striking all of North Korea with stronger warheads, it appears likely that Washington would no longer oppose the South's development of long-range missiles.