Iranian space monkey grounded

Posted on October 4, 2011

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Researcher with Ham

 

In the early days of space exploration animals were sent into space because scientists didn’t know if humans would survive. Some of our closest cousins have boldly been where many of us may never go.

In a year when America has seen its space shuttles go into retirement, Iran’s Space Organisation has been firing on all cylinders.

Researcher with chimpanzee

The Iranians had been planning to launch a rocket, Kavoshgar-5, which means Explorer-5 in Farsi, with a 285-kilogram capsule carrying a monkey to an altitude of 120 kilometres (74 miles). But yesterday the country’s top space official, Hamid Fazeli said the space monkey’s mission had been cancelled.

Iran says sending a monkey into space is the first step towards putting a man into orbit by 2020

He said: “One cannot give a set date for this project and as soon as our nation’s scientists announce the readiness (of the project) it will be announced.

“Our scientists are exerting continuous efforts on this project… our colleagues are busy with empirical studies and sub-system testing of this project so it is a success.”

The capsule was unveiled in February by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad along with four new prototypes of home-built satellites.

At the time, Fazeli touted the launch of a large animal into space as the first step towards sending a man into orbit, which Tehran says is scheduled for 2020.

So far there’s been no explanation as to why the launch was postponed.

The monkey may well be breathing a hefty sigh of relief but other species have been less fortunate.

Last year Iran sent a menagerie of animals into space – a rodent, turtles and (interestingly!) worms. They were packed aboard a capsule carried by its Kavoshgar-3 rocket.

Commenting after last year’s launch, a US defence expert said there was no scientific benefit to sending such animals into space.

To test a life-support system of use to humans, “the obvious choice would be to send a monkey,” said James Lewis, senior fellow at Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “Worms in space serve no purpose. The launch was clearly part of Iran’s effort to advance military technology and assert political dominance in space.”

Press TV quoted Iranian space officials saying live video transmission and telemetry allowed the rat or mouse – named Helmz-1 – turtles and worms to be monitored during their space voyage.

The Fars news agency reported that the animals had returned to Earth and were being studied by scientists. Whether this was alive or dead, I’m not sure!

Animals such as a rat, turtles and worms have already been sent into orbit by Iran

The Islamic republic has not been afraid of publicising its ambitious space programme. Its first satellite was put into orbit in 2009. But this growing confidence has raised concerns in the west that these ambitions may be linked to developing a ballistic missile capability that could deliver nuclear warheads.

Tehran has repeatedly denied that its contentious nuclear and scientific programmes mask military ambitions.

Iranian officials have also pointed to America’s use of satellites to monitor conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and say they need similar capabilities for their security.

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