Kim Jong Un was the picture of a curious student as he toured the Russian space rocket launch site on Wednesday alongside Vladimir Putin.
When examining Russia’s Angara rocket complex, Kim asked: “Is it eight meters (in diameter), including the parts?”
At another point, he asked: “What’s the thrust of the largest rocket that can be launched from this space port?”
Even a Russian state media journalist, reporting from inside the space center, commented on the leader’s inquisitiveness, saying Kim was asking “a lot of very detailed questions.”
Why this matters to Pyongyang: There’s good reason Kim is so interested. North Korea has made space technology a priority — but has some ways to go, having tried and failed twice this year to launch a spy satellite into orbit.
Kim has also stressed the role of military satellites as a means to protect national safety and territorial stability and has spoken of their strategic value when deploying military force preemptively, KCNA said in April.
Meanwhile, Russia has been a world leader in nuclear missile forces for decades.
“Russia has the military technology that Kim wants for his illegal satellite launch and nuclear weapons delivery programs,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, ahead of the meeting.
Putin and Kim met on Wednesday at the space center; before Kim’s arrival, one reporter asked whether Russia would help North Korea “launch its own satellites and rockets” — to which Putin responded, “That’s exactly why we came here.”
Providing this technology to North Korea would be in violation of international sanctions, aimed at hampering Pyongyang’s ability to build a fully functioning nuclear weapons and ballistic missile force.
Spacecraft launch pad: During the tour, the two leaders also inspected the launch complex where Russia plans to launch its Soyuz-2 spacecrafts, according to state media.
Russia’s Soyuz programme is one of the longest operational human spacecraft programs in the history of space exploration. The Soyuz, meaning “union”, spacecrafts were created by the Soviet Union in the 1960 and are still in use today.
Last month, Russia successfully launched Luna 25, the country’s first lunar lander in 47 years, on a Soyuz-2 Fregat rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome.