Living the Dream in KARI With Luck and Timing

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A Conversation with Alumni

Living the Dream in KARI With Luck and Timing

Alumnus Seong Jae-dong (Graduated from UST-KARI Campus, Aerospace System Engineering Major in 2016, Currently senior researcher at KARI)

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There once was a boy who liked science. He would spend hours every day experimenting with his science kit, a birthday gift from his uncle. The boy’s favorite time of the year was Science Day, held every April at his school. He dreamed of becoming an engineer, but wasn’t sure of the exact field. Then, he watched the movie “Armageddon” on TV. Seeing the scientists in the control room of the space shuttle design the orbit for the shuttle’s asteroid landing, he thought to himself that he would like to operate a space mission someday. As the boy grew, so did the path to his dream; until, one day, it became reality.

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UST, the Foothold to His Dream

During his master’s program at Pusan National University’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, Seong was researching the relatively unfamiliar topic of space debris and space junk. His lab was awarded a KARI contract research project, and the principal researcher for the project was professor Kim Hae-dong. Professor Kim, who had also graduated from Pusan National University, told Seong about the UST degree program, and soon after, Seong became professor Kim’s first PhD student.

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At UST, Seong assisted professor Kim as an integral member of his project team over the course of five years, eventually developing a software named KARISMA to protect Korean satellites in space. On top of that, professor Kim acted as Seong’s advocate, to raise his profile within KARI.

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   “Professor Kim really worked to get my name out there! He would tell other researchers that his student was conducting research on space debris analysis, asking them to get me involved in relevant projects, Then the principal researcher of the project would approach me to do the analysis, Through that process, I got to meet many researchers, and raise my profile within KARI.”

When he enrolled at UST, Seong’s dream was to become a KARI researcher. Now, he is in his 3rd year as a researcher at KARI, and it has become like a second home, the place where he spends most of his days. Now that Seong has achieved his dream of becoming a KARI researcher, he is working towards even greater goals for the future.

Expanding His Dream to Space

During his time at UST, Seong applied to a KARI organized International Space Education Board (ISEB) program, to participate in the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) for a week.

At this conference, Seong met other students from various space related institutions such as the U.S, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) through a wide range of programs. There were presentations by experts on various fields that appeared unrelated to space, such as law, biology, and medicine, which left an impression on Seong by breaking the conventional ideas he had of space.


   I had no idea that so many different fields could be related to space. For example, there could be the legal question of what should be done if an astronaut was hit by space debris. It was a refreshing perspective. Furthermore, space debris is a rarely researched topic in Korea, but there I found out that it was being actively researched by other scientists around the world. I felt like a frog in a well. I learned that the problem of space was not simply a matter of engineering.

Seong is currently working on the flight dynamics of low earth orbit satellites at the Satellite R&D Office of KARI. This mainly involves orbit determination, orbit prediction, orbit adjustment and fuel volume analysis for the Korean satellites Arirang and Chollian. He also monitors and analyzes approaching space objects. Another project he is involved in is the development of a ground control system to operate and control satellites, playing the role of a system engineer. Performing these roles he trained for as a student feels like a reward for the hard work over the years, but also comes with heavy responsibility.

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Though Dreams Are Not Always Achievable, Anyone Can Achieve Diligence

Seong believes that the two key factors to his success were balance and reliability. He would devise a balanced plan for the given time to perform his responsibilities efficiently, and reliably produce results in the given time to build a good reputation for himself.

   “I heard Elon Musk plans his schedule in 5-minute chunks. In my case, I set firm principles such as being at the lab ready to start work every morning at 9 am, showing everyone consistency so they know that I will be there at a certain time. With diligence and reliability as a base, and building up a satisfying career through efficient planning, you’ll find nothing else could influence you more positively.”

We asked Seong if he has any words of advice for people working towards their dreams, as someone who has achieved his dream. He replied, “I want to tell them not to give up, and keep steady. Continue stoically and diligently in your given role. Being constant even when there was no immediately visible result has always brought about good outcomes for me.”

They say that the god of opportunity is bald in the back of his head. This means that the golden opportunity comes by fleetingly and cannot be caught again once it passes. Seong believes that he was able to achieve his dream thanks to luck and timing. He waited for the right opportunity to come along, and worked hard in the meantime to build up his foundations for seizing the chance. The god of opportunity does not come to those who do not even try. In Seong’s relaxed composure of one who has achieved his dream, we saw yet another unspoken virtue-- the belief in himself and his dream.