According to the Wall Street Journal, the latest blockbuster Interstellar is inspiring young Koreans to study science fields related to outer space. Interstellar has shown a very fast pace of box office success, and is now ranked in the top three most successful foreign movies ever to hit the big screens in Korea, after Avatar and Frozen.
While the appetite for sci-fi epics is strong, the reality in Korea is that the infrastructure for science education, especially aerospace, is fairly limited. Out of 116 general graduate schools in Korea, only 12 of them offer concentrations directly related to the aerospace field. Many students and university administrators believe that the limited number of job opportunities available domestically makes studying aerospace unpractical.
In an attempt to leverage Interstellar’s popularity to shift Koreans’ perceptions of the space industry, Tae-kyung Ha, a politician with the ruling Saenuri party, held an open forum about space development in Korea at the National Assembly Member’s Office on December 10th, 2014. Ha emphasized the need for continuous interest and investment in the space industry because nothing can happen quickly in such a technical and complex field. Ha also said that Korea should strive to become 7th country to reach the moon. Mr. Ha belongs to the same party as President Park Geun Hye, who is also making efforts to develop popular support for Korea's aerospace industry.
The future of the Korean space industry is looking brighter, thanks to international assistance. In September 2014, the US Department of Defense (DoD) decided to share space data and situational awareness with Korea’s Defense Ministry. In October 2014, the US Department of State published a joint statement that strengthened cooperation on aerospace science between the two countries. Furthermore, NASA, the world’s leading aerospace powerhouse, announced last June that it will participate in the Korean Lunar Exploration Project. This increased collaboration between the US and Korea, both in reality and through the effects of cinema, should help boost the number of opportunities for Koreans to become involved in the space industry.
Kawoon Kim is an Asan Academy Intern at the East-West Center in Washington.