Daejeon Spearheading Korea’s Space Ambitions
Daejeon to Host Int’l Astronautical Congress
By Do Je-hae
For Koreans, the city of Daejeon is almost synonymous with the nation’s premiere R&D cluster of Daedeok Science Town, the first of its kind to be established in modern Korea.
This year sees two landmark occasions for Korea’s fifth largest city ― it celebrates its 60th anniversary of being the officially designated as a city from what was formerly a cluster of small towns with a meager population.
In addition, Daejeon was elevated to a metropolitan city 20 years ago, giving it a self-governing status equivalent to that of a province.
As it prepares for celebrations in October, Mayor Park Seoung-hyo spoke with The Korea Times about why it is important for the rest of the country to appreciate how the nation’s first science hub was created.
``Science and technology expertise can fuel new growth engines such as the space industry. Economically, times are tough, but that is precisely why we need to revisit the significance of the Daedeok Science Town,’’ Mayor Park said in an interview.
Daedeok Science Town
When Daejeon was elevated to city status 60 years ago, it was, like rest of the country, struggling to rebuild and modernize itself.
Its big break came when the late President Park Chung-hee, widely recognized as the forefather of the nation’s industrialization, chose Daejeon in 1973 to establish what would become the nation’s first cluster of public and private science research facilities as well as institutions of higher education.
``I am confident in defining Daejeon as the engineer of Korea’s growth into one of the world’s top 10 leaders in science and technology,’’ Park said.
``Looking back, I am amazed by the foresight demonstrated by the late President Park in building a science-specific research area at a time when most Koreans lived on $300 a month,’’ the mayor said, indicating that science was probably the last thing on people’s minds during a period of destitution. ``It was an investment into the country’s future and an immense contribution to Korea’s economic progress.’’
Daedeok Science Town in Daejeon’s Yuseong district currently consists of more than 200 private and public research centers and science parks. Korea’s corporate giants such as Samsung and LG run research operations there, joined by the nation’s most respected science education institutions like the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).
Leading Science Fusion
Daejeon is the only city in Korea that houses research institutes specializing all fields of science, thereby giving it the capacity to lead a convergence of various science technologies.
Key research institutes housed by the Daedeok Science Town are the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI); Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology (KRIBB); the Electronic and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI); Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI); and the National Fusion Research Institute.
``The accomplishments of these institutions will sustain Korea’s future,’’ Park said, referring to the examples of ETRI’s WiBro (Wireless Broadband) Internet technology, which has become the international standard for 3G wireless communication; and KARI, which developed Korea’s first satellite program in 1999.
``Because of Daejeon’s unique capacity to bring together all fields of science, we are ideally positioned to lead Korea’s technological developments for boosting the nation’s space industry,’’ Park said.
Mecca of Space Industry
Daejeon has undoubtedly been at the forefront of Korea’s initiatives to become one of the world’s top seven space developers in the next 10 years.
``Last year, Yi So-yeon, a scientist with KAIST, became the first Korean to fly into space, chosen through Korea’s 2006 Astronaut Program. Next month, Korea will launch the country’s first-ever space vehicle, the KSLV-1,’’ Park said, elaborating on the latest signs of Korea’s ardent space aspirations.
In addition, Korea recently opened its first space center, the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla Province.
The launch will make Korea the world’s 13th member of the so-called ``space club,’’ comprising countries that are capable of operating space centers and send satellites into orbit.
``Apart from the domestic initiatives, this year marks the 40th anniversary of mankind’s first landing on the moon. There is no better time than the present to generate the Korean public’s interest in space,’’ Park said.
Against such a background, Daejeon will host the 60th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) from Oct. 12 to 16.
International Astronautical Congress
First held in 1950 under the initiative of the Paris-based International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the annual IAC is the world’s largest and most respected international event on space. Korea is the fourth Asian host of what is often considered the “Olympics of space and aviation,” after Japan, China and India.
Korea went up against intense competition from Shanghai and Prague to bring the IAC to Daejeon at the IAF general assembly in 2006.
``We will use this opportunity to publicize the Daedeok Science Town as the future mecca of space technology and present our research accomplishments to the world,” Mayor Park said.
The theme of IAC 2009 Daejeon is “Space for Sustainable Peace and Progress.”
More than 3,000 space experts, scientists, policymakers and industrial representatives from 60 countries have committed to taking part in the event, making it the largest of its series.
They will create 300 space exhibition booths. Participants will also exchange global space technology and information thorough various conferences.
``We are hoping for many domestic and overseas visitors to visit our city on this occasion. In particular, we would like to see young people benefiting from this educational opportunity to learn more about space science,’’ he said.
Many would agree that it would be hard to find anyone better informed about Daejeon’s past, present and future than Mayor Park Seoung-hyo ― he has spent most of his 54 years in the city.
Park witnessed the city’s struggles in the 1960s as it strived to rebuild itself after the ruins of the 1950-53 Korean War as well as its remarkable rise into a national Mecca of science and technology in the following years.
A native of Daejeon, he received all of his primary and secondary education there. He entered Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul in 1978 as a public administration major and joined public service in the following year upon passing the Higher Civil Service Examination.
Unlike most successful candidates of the highly competitive state exam for selecting central government officials, he has spent most of his career at the Daejeon City administration.
He was elected mayor in the 2006 local election.
``I am immensely content with the career choice I made. The biggest merit of a life in local public service is working for the greater good of citizens,’’ Park said.
In his pastime, he likes to ride bicycles and engage in volunteer activities with his colleagues.
This year is his third year in the office of mayor. During his tenure, he has adopted various measures to secure the health of Daejeon’s economy.
Currently, Daejeon has the lowest rate of unemployment among the country's seven major cities at 3.6 percent. It is the only city with increasing employment in its manufacturing industry.
``This is due to Daejeon’s arduous efforts to house more corporations to do business in our city and hire our citizens,’’ Park said.
Besides a pioneering history in science development, Daejeon is known for being the country’s transportation hub.
Located in the center of Korea, the city with population of about 1.5 million is at the crossroads of the nation’s major railways and highways.
It is also the only city besides Seoul and Gwacheon in Gyeonggi Province, housing a cluster of central government agencies, such as the National Archive of Korea and the Small and Medium Business Administration.
Daejeon is widely considered one of the nation’s most pleasant cities to live and work in. It has the lowest record of national disasters and traffic accidents, contributing to the highest life expectancy out of the six metropolitan cities.
In recent years, Daejeon has vigorously adopted environment-friendly policies, such as the ``Urban Tree-Planting’’ campaign and introducing bicycle-only lanes for the increasing number of bicycle commuters in the city.
A state research institute placed Daejeon, not Seoul, as the top ranker in its survey of urban competitiveness conducted on Korea’s 75 cities.
Additionally, according to the Ministry of Public Administration, Daejeon has the highest number of volunteers per population. Around 8 percent of the city's population, or 126,000, are registered with the city administration as volunteers.