- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - Orbit or ocean?

North Korea claims the rocket it sent up Sunday put an experimental communications satellite into space and that it is transmitting data and patriotic songs. The U.S. military says whatever left the launch pad ended up at the bottom of the sea.

North Korea has a history of hyperbole. In creating a cult of personality for its leader, Kim Jong Il, its media rewrote the story of his birth along biblical lines and once said that when he took up golf, he was firing holes-in-one with regularity.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said the three-stage rocket “accurately” put a satellite into orbit nine minutes and two seconds after launch. It provided details on an elliptical orbit that it said was taking the satellite around the Earth every 104 minutes and 12 seconds.

“The satellite is transmitting the melodies of the immortal revolutionary paeans ‘Song of Gen. Kim Il Sung’ and ‘Song of Gen. Kim Jong Il’ as well as measurement data back to Earth,” KCNA said, referring to the country’s late founder and his son, the current leader.

“The carrier rocket and the satellite developed by the indigenous wisdom and technology are the shining results gained in the efforts to develop the nation’s space science and technology on a higher level,” it said.

But North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command officials issued a statement disputing any success.

“Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan,” the statement said. “The remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean. No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan.”

U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials _ who monitored the launch from nearby warships and high-resolution spy satellite cameras _ have said they suspect the North was really testing long-range ballistic missile technology that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead to Alaska or beyond.

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