Kim, who ruled for 17 years under a "military first" policy before his Dec. 17, 2011, death, made getting a satellite into space one of the last goals of his leadership. In his honor, North Korea's three satellites have been dubbed "Kwangmyongsong," or Lode Star, in honor of the bright star that legendarily appeared in the skies when Kim was born.
Two weeks before the first anniversary of his death, North Korea has already quieted down amid an unofficial state of mourning. State media are churning out odes to the late leader, honoring everything from his skill as a composer to the workaday parka he famously wore while making "on the spot" field trips by train.
A grand commemoration can be expected to mark Kim's death, and a rocket mounted with at satellite named after the Dear Leader could end up being the biggest firework of them all.
ELEVATING KIM JONG UN
Outside observers consider Wednesday's liftoff North Korea's first successful satellite launch, and although North Korea had claimed the 2009 launch was also successful, this certainly boosts the standing of Kim Jong Un.
Though omnipresent now, he had been a mystery when he was revealed several years ago as the heir-apparent. One of Kim Jong Un's early tasks as successor-in-training was to oversee the launch of the April 2009 rocket, which he monitored from the command center.
Throughout his succession campaign and during this first year of leadership, the 29-year-old has been characterized by state propaganda as young, modern, tech-savvy and forward-thinking. He has been working to build a base of loyalty among North Koreans struggling with chronic economic hardship by promising them a higher standard of living and a better future. The rocket and satellite are portrayed by state media as a symbol of the nation's future.
SATELLITE OR MISSILE?
Washington, Seoul and other adversaries see a more sinister objective in the launch.
Experts note that sending a satellite into space uses a similar technology as firing a long-range missile capable of striking American soil. The U.N. Security Council warns that a North Korean rocket fired for civilian purposes or otherwise would violate a ban on developing its missile and nuclear programs. The Security Council, which has already passed two rounds of sanctions, was to meet behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss its response to the launch.
The North Koreans are not naive about the distinction between satellite launches and missiles. They see their nukes as a bulwark against U.S. military might in the region. The 2009 rocket launch was followed within weeks by another, more worrying test: a nuclear bomb.
With a successful rocket launch, the U.S. and other countries fear North Korea's next step will be to master miniaturization technology so their nukes are small enough to be loaded onto missiles.
Pyongyang's position to Washington: Sign a peace treaty and withdraw your troops from South Korea, and then maybe we'll get rid of our bombs.
Jean H. Lee divides her time between Pyongyang, North Korea, and Seoul, South Korea, as AP's Korea bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/newsjean.
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