With just minutes to go before liftoff, South Korean engineers postponed the launch of the country's first space-bound rocket. The delay comes as a disappointment to many who looked forward to the launch as a milestone of national pride.
Excitement was mounting Wednesday at South Korea's Naro Space Center, as the time to launch dropped below eight minutes. Then, at seven minutes and 56 seconds, the digital clock froze because technicians decided not to proceed.
Lee Sang-mok, a policy director at South Korea's Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, says South Korea's first indigenous space mission will have to wait.
He says a pressure valve on one of the rocket's fuel tanks showed a drop. He explains that a joint Russian and Korean team of engineers are conducting a thorough technical analysis.
South Korea teamed up with Russia to spend more than $400 million on the 33-meter tall rocket, known as the Korea Space Launch Vehicle, or KSLV-1. It will carry a communications satellite into low-earth orbit.
Lee says the Russian technicians think another launch attempt could be made within several days. He says an exact date will be set after Wednesday's difficulties are more precisely understood.
South Korean officials had earlier considered delaying Wednesday's mission, out of respect for former President Kim Dae-jung, who died Tuesday. That idea was set aside because of the strong logistical momentum behind the launch.
Many South Koreans view the launch in terms of national pride, as a milestone of the country's progress in its indigenous space program. The $250-million launch facility where the rocket was set to lift off is being set as the stage for an ambitious space program, including long-range plans to land South Korean probes on the moon.
South Korea's launch plans have drawn comparisons to North Korea's April launch of a long-range rocket, which Pyongyang says was part of its peaceful space research. South Korea, the United States and Japan expressed fears the launch was a thinly veiled test of North Korea's offensive ballistic missile program.
Park Jung-ju, director of the KSLV Systems Office, says there are major differences between the North and South launches.
He says South Korea's launch plans have been transparent to the public, unlike in North Korea. For South Korea, he says, the launch itself is the goal - not developing weapons systems. Park says comparing South Korea's launch with the North's is "inappropriate."