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South Korea catches up to North Korea on the space race

South Korea has successfully sent a satellite into space from its own soil, joining an exclusive club of 12 others. 

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South Korea's rocket lifts off from its launchpad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Korea, Wednesday. South Korea says it has successfully launched a satellite into orbit from its own soil for the first time.

Lee Sang-hak/Yonhap/AP

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South Korea says its first successful launch Wednesday of a rocket from its own soil has opened a new era of opportunity, taking the pressure off to keep up with its rival, North Korea, on a space race. 

President Lee Myung-bak hailed the launch as the first step toward opening an "era of space science" for the country, according to his spokesman.

The launch comes after at least two previously failed attempts, including one in 2009 and one in 2010. The rocket blasted off at 4 p.m., here, and put a science satellite into orbit, making South Korea the 13th nation to successfully put a satellite into space from its own country – just after rival North Korea surprised the world with its own successful launch last month.

The South had previously run up against serious US resistance to a satellite launch attempt. The United States feared the development and launch of a satellite was a cover by Seoul to develop and test long-range missiles. If that were the case, worried the US, it could spark an arms race with Pyongyang.

The North’s launch of a satellite in December was quickly condemned by the international community for violating United Nations resolutions, and was seen widely as a cover to test weapons capabilities. 

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