Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Image: File photo of a soldier at launch pad

Reuters file
A soldier stands guard in front of a rocket sitting on a launch pad at the Sohae Satellite Launch Statio, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in April.
By Alan Boyle Science editor
NBC News
updated 12 minutes ago

North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Wednesday in defiance of its critics abroad, and sources said the launch may have succeeded where earlier attempts had failed. 

Initial word of the launch came from media outlets in Seoul and Tokyo, and a spokesman at South Korea's Defense Ministry confirmed to NBC News that the launch had taken place.

Later, a Defense Ministry representative told reporters that the launch "looked successful, but whether it has been really successful needs more time to determine."
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Reuters reported that South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak called an emergency security meeting in response to the North Korean launch, which took place at the Sohae Satellite Launch Station on the secretive country's west coast.

Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Osamu Fujimura, said North Korea's Unha rocket flew over Okinawa at 10:01 a.m. local time. He could not confirm whether any debris fell on Japanese territory. "The Japanese government regards this launch as an act compromising the peace and stability of the region, including Japan," Fujimura said.

Fujimura said the launch was "completely unacceptable," but he reassured the public that the Japanese government was doing everything possible to ensure national security. "Please go about your daily lives calmly," he said during a briefing.

Japan's NHK television network reported that the rocket's second stage crashed into the sea off the coast of the Philippines as planned, minutes after passing over Okinawa. The key question was whether the third stage successfully reached outer space.

North Korea says the rocket launch is aimed purely at putting its Kwangmyongsong weather satellite into a pole-to-pole orbit. But critics fear that the mission's true purpose is to test technologies for sending a nuclear warhead to targets as far away as the U.S. West Coast.

This month, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said "a North Korean 'satellite' launch would be a highly provocative act that threatens peace and security in the region." Nuland said such a launch would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea is banned from conducting missile and nuclear tests, under the terms of U.N. sanctions imposed after a series of nuclear weapons tests in 2006 and 2009.

Wednesday's launch follows up on an attempt in April that ended in failure just minutes after liftoff.

North Korea's space effort is a point of prestige for the country's 29-year-old leader, Kim Jong Un, who assumed power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died last December. North Korea has claimed that it successfully launched two previous satellites in 1998 and 2009, but outside experts say there's no sign that anything was ever put into orbit.

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