Iran Claims Successful Suborbital Launch of Monkey, But U.S. Cannot Confirm
Iran revealed today that it successfully sent a monkey into space on a suborbital flight and retrieved it alive as a first step in sending humans into space. The U.S. State Department, however, said it could not confirm that a launch took place or that a monkey was aboard.
The Fars News Agency reported today that the Defense Ministry's Aerospace Industries Association sent a monkey in a biocapsule aboard a Pishgam (Pioneer) rocket. The rocket reached 120 kilometers in altitude before returning to Earth. The monkey was "safe and sound" according to Fars. The Washington Post published this photo of the monkey apparently taken before its flight.
Source: Washington Post
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was asked at her daily press briefing today if she could confirm the launch. She replied that she had seen the pictures of "the poor little monkey preparing to go to space ... but we don't have any way to confirm this one way or the other with regard to the primate." She later added she could not confirm either the launch or what might have been aboard. She stated that any Iranian space launch vehicle capable of placing something in orbit would violate U.N. Security Council resolution 1929, adopted in 2010, that prohibits Iran from developing ballistic missile technology. (This launch was not to orbit, however.)
Iran placed its first satellite, Omid, in orbit in 2009. It reentered after three months. Iran sent a rat, turtles and worms on a suborbital flight in 2010 on its Kavoshgar-3 (Explorer-3) rocket. In March 2011, Iran's Space Agency launched a test of the biocapsule on Kavoshgar-4. In the fall of 2012, an attempt to launch a monkey reportedly failed. The UK's The Telegraph quoted an Iranian official as saying the launch of Kavoshgar-5 took place between August 23 and September 22, "but was not publicised [sic] because all of its anticipated objectives were not accomplished."
Iran's leaders have made clear that launching monkeys is the first step towards sending humans into space. Initial plans were to launch astronauts in 2024, but Fars said today that a subsequent decision accelerated that date by five years and the goal is now 2019.
Launching monkeys and other animals as precursors to human spaceflight is routine. Jonathan McDowell of Jonathan's Space Report has a handy list of all non-human animals who have make suborbital or orbital flights.
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