Graham’s Corner


By Francis Graham

         There have been, from time to time, exploration hoaxes. It was hotly debated whether Peary reached the pole, although, it now seems, he did or was very close.  His competitor, Frederick Cook, never did but staged an elaborate hoax which was exposed.

         As space exploration unfolds, it is not surprising that space exploration hoaxes emerge.

         On the last day of August, 1998, the Democratic Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea and not very democratic, tried to launch a satellite, the Kwangmyongsong, into orbit. Their real purpose was to demonstrate missile technology to potential customers of their missile armament manufacturing operation.

At that time, North Korea was gladly selling missiles to countries the USA would not. As a public relations and marketing stunt, the effort was a stroke of genius.   Kim Jong Il, the

leader of North Korea stated in “The Art of the Cinema” (he was a propaganda movie director before assuming power) “The director must maintain confidence in himself and aim high and work boldly. .” The “Dear Leader” Kim did just that. The surprise unauthorized over fly of Japan made the Japanese extremely nervous, and the United States became nervous, too.

      The satellite was very unsophisticated for the 21st century. It was a scaled down variant of the first Chinese satellite, but instead of playing “The East is Red” as the Chinese satellite did, the North Korean satellite played “The Song of Kim Il Sung” and “The Song of Kim Jong Il” for its brief flight.

         The North Korea satellite actually did achieve a low orbit—for 25 seconds.  From all available evidence, its spin motor blew up and the thing de-orbited and came down in the southeastern Pacific. As the charred satellite wreckage sank to the bottom of the East Pacific Trench, it soon became clear that the DPRK leadership would not take “No” for an answer.

         The DPRK announced to the public that the satellite was still in orbit and was a complete success.  Since North Koreans aren’t allowed to receive foreign broadcasts, television, or periodicals, not even from their countrymen to the south, naturally North Koreans believed it.  They celebrated it. Some people have said that North Korea is the closest place on Earth to the Twilight Zone, since the control over access to foreign media is so strong.

       Just to make sure, in case of a failure, the North Koreans set their satellite transmitter (which played a tape recording of “The Song of Kim Jong Il” and the “Song of Kim Il Sung”) to 27 MHz. This is of course US citizens band, but it is not a frequency

assigned to satellite broadcasting or to North Korea.  It is a frequency which responds favorably to solar activity ionization allowing a skip of a signal around the world. According to Brian Webb, North Korea may have set up a ghost transmitter, in case of failure, and was hoping the sun’s activity would sufficiently ionize the atmosphere so the signal would be picked up on US Citizens’ band as if it would have come from a satellite.  If so, the Sun refused to cooperate that early September. No signals from the alleged ghost transmitter in North Korea made it out.

       So there were no lingering doubts, the North Koreans announced a time where the satellite would be visible over Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.  This was potentially a problem since there was, in objective reality, no longer any satellite.

Fortunately the bogus orbital parameters also corresponded to a passage of the Russian satellite Cosmos 1220 over the city. The North Koreans celebrated again.

      I am not sure what is gong to happen when North Korea opens its borders sufficiently so that the North Koreans will awaken from their manufactured illusion.  I suspect it will be at the bottom of the list of things that their cognitive dissonance will be forced to come to grips with.  It will be like leaving a movie theater they thought was real life.

           All in all, however, it must be said that the North Korean Leadership played the card as well as it could from a geopolitical perspective.  While the satellite failed to orbit, the booster rocket itself could be a formidable military missile. This, coupled with the acquisition of at least a few atomic weapons, made the North Koreans a group to be reckoned with.  Agreements were made by which missile testing above a certain range was suspended, and atomic weapons would be phased out in exchange for peaceful power reactors of a type not easily conducive to weapons production.  If these agreements are kept, paradoxically the Korean peninsula will be a safer place. But it also guarantees that the Korean Workers Party and Kim Jong Il will hold sway north of the DMZ for a while.

The North Korean attempt at a satellite, called Kwangmyongsong 1 or "Lodestar". Shown at the Artificial Satellite Center in Pyongyang.

Launch of the North Korean satellite attempt.

Interior of the "Taepo-Dong" booster showing placement of the satellite attempt.

A book published in North Korea showing Kwangmyongsong in orbit on the cover.
The title is "Man-Made Earth Satellite" and the publisher is the Science Encyclopedia Collaborative. Published in 1999, it is 96 pages.