Posted Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, at 10:46 AM
Photo by Amir Pourmand/AFP/Getty Images
I've already written more words on Iran's fledgling space program than I ever expected I would, in this job or any other. But there are two more stories on that beat worth flagging, both of which strain credibility to varying degrees. First, over the weekend, Iran made the case that their monkey mission was in fact the real deal, despite visual evidence suggesting that the animal that "returned" to Earth wasn't the same as the one that was launched into space. The Associated Press:
[Senior Iranian space official Mohammad] Ebrahimi said one set of pictures showed an archive photo of one of the alternate monkeys. He said three to five monkeys are simultaneously tested for such a flight and two or three are chosen for the launch. Finally, the one that is best suited for the mission and isn't stressed is chosen for the voyage.
State TV pictures seen by AP show the dark-haired monkey before and after the space flight, but a package of still pictures released by authorities showed the other monkey with the mole.
"I say this with certainty that the monkey is in good health and the space flight didn't have any physical effect on Pishgam," Ebrahimi said. "Some of the photos released by one of news agencies were not related to the time of flight. They were archive photos of the monkeys being prepared for the launch."
That explanation is unlikely to quiet all the skepticism surrounding Iran's space program, although it should be noted that at least one expert the AP spoke to, Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell, is buying the idea that the monkey mission was a success, even if he still has his doubts about the official explanation of the mismatching photos. (He says that the monkey with the mole was most likely the animal that died during a failed mission in 2011 that Iran doesn't like to talk about.)
Fortunately for Iran, any remaining doubts about last week's mission are likely to be drowned out by this story. Reuters:
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday he was ready to be the first human sent into orbit by Iran's fledgling space program, Iranian media reported.
The launch added to Western concerns about Iran's space program because the same rocket technology could potentially be used to deliver a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. "I am ready to be the first human to be sent to space by Iranian scientists," Ahmadinejad said on Monday, on the sidelines of an exhibition of space achievements in Tehran, according to the Mehr news agency. "Sending living things into space is the result of Iranian efforts and the dedication of thousands of Iranian scientists."
As Reuters dryly notes, Ahmadinejad is known for "provocative public comments," making it unclear whether he was being serious this time around. Regardless, Iran has made it known that it hopes to put a man in space by the end of the decade. Whether anyone believes it if or when they do, however, remains to be seen.