North Korea has kept the world in thrall with its latest -- failed -- Space Odyssey
Bangkok, Thailand - A sensational cliffhanger has been set up ever since that fateful March 16 when the Korean Committee for Space Technology announced that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) would send Kwangmyongsong-3 ("Guiding light," or "Polar Star") -- a polar-orbiting satellite -- into space, atop the Unha-3 launch vehicle.
Unha means "Milky Way." But according to North Korean myth-making, it also designates the current Supreme Leader, 20-something Kim Jong-eun, "a heaven-sent statesman set to lead the ancestral Land of Morning Calm to millennium prosperity".
Not even Hollywood on a wild ride can beat a script like this.
Literally, the whole planet was waiting for this rocket launch out of Sohae ("West Sea") in Cholsan County -- during a window between April 12 and 16. According to an official statement, "a safe flight orbit has been chosen so that carrier rocket debris to be generated during the flight would not have any impact on neighbouring countries."
To no avail; every regional carrier from Japan Airlines and ANA to Philippine Airlines frantically scrambled to alter their flight paths.
As far as eulogies for what is officially the third North Korean satellite launch are concerned, it's hard to beat the inimitable Kim Myong-chol -- the unofficial spokesman for the Kim dynasty.
He maintains that, "to mark the 100th anniversary of founding father Kim Il-sung's birth" (it falls this Sunday), Kim Jong-eun ("the world's youngest but most sophisticated statesman") has scheduled "the spectacular launch of an earth observation satellite that will present the world with a spatial chorus of The Song of Marshal Kim Il-sung and Happy Birthday to You."
All this song and dance, though, had the potential to lead to some serious embarrassment. North Korea launched a first satellite in 1998. The rocket failed. It launched a second in 2009. The rocket also failed. As far as the North Koreans are concerned, there was no failure. For internal public opinion, North Korea has already put two satellites into orbit.
But another failure, now, would represent a cataclysmic loss of face -- especially with so many foreigners invited for the occasion (Iran, for instance, has mastered the technology with much less investment).
And that's exactly what happened this Friday morning. Although the rocket did not explode in front of everybody, the satellite failed to reach orbit, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
The North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) tracked the launch of what it describes as a "North Korean missile" at 6:39 pm EDT. NORAD says the missile went south over the Yellow Sea about 165 kilometres west of Seoul. Stages two and three failed. And no debris fell on land.
So far, North Korea did not blame the CIA for the failure.