Iran has launched a live monkey into space, the Defense Ministry announced. The country says the mission is part of preparations to send a man into space in 2020.
The monkey successfully reached space on Monday, Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi told state television.
The Arabic-language channel Al-Alam and Iranian news agencies reported that the primate returned alive after traveling in a capsule called Pishgam, or Pioneer in Farsi, to a height of 120 km (72 miles) for a suborbital flight.
"The monkey which was sent in this launch landed safely and alive and this is a big step for experts and scientists," Vahidi said.
The defense minister said the mission was an important step in conquering space, and paves the way for future endeavors.
"Today's successful launch follows previous successes we had in launching [space] probes with other living creatures," he said.
Images broadcast on state TV showed a small gray-tufted monkey being prepared for flight. It was wearing body protection and being strapped into a pod resembling a child's car seat.
In the 1950s, the US and Soviet Union routinely carried out space missions involving animals, including monkeys. Many of the animals sent on space flights died because of equipment failure or technology unable to cope with re-entry from orbit.
Manned space mission
In mid-January, Iran announced its intent to launch a monkey as part of its "preparations for sending a man into space," which is scheduled for 2020.
A previous attempt by Iran to send a monkey into space in 2011 failed. No official explanation was ever given.
In 2010, Iran sent an Explorer rocket into space carrying a mouse, a turtle and worms. The country has also successfully launched three satellites: Omid in February 2009, Rassad in June 2011 and Navid in February 2012.
Iran's space program concerns some nations as it could be used to develop ballistic missile capability. The UN Security Council has imposed an almost total embargo on nuclear and space technology in the country since 2007. Iran has denied allegations that its nuclear and scientific programs mask military ambitions.
The country has not provided details of its planned new space facility, but it already has a major satellite complex near Semnan, about 200 km east of Tehran. A satellite monitoring facility is located outside of Mahdasht, about 70 km west of the capital.
Iran, a country that frequently suffers from earthquakes, has said it wants to put its own satellites into orbit to monitor natural disasters, improve telecommunications and expand military surveillance in the region.
dr/mkg (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)