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Iran's Monkey Rocket Plans Continue A Rich History Of Primate Space Travel

Soviet monkey Dryoma went up into space in September 1987, before being presented to Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Soviet monkey Dryoma went up into space in September 1987, before being presented to Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Tehran is planning to send a live monkey into space after a previous failed attempt, according to Iranian media reports.

Hamid Fazeli, the head of the Iranian Space Agency, was quoted by local media as saying the launch date would be sometime during a 10-day period starting January 31.

That day coincides with the 34th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

According to the Mehr news agency, the monkeys are now in quarantine and will be sent up in a capsule named Pishgam, or Pioneer, which will be aboard a Kavoshgar rocket.

Iran has previously sent small animals into space, including a rat, turtles, and worms. But its attempt to send a monkey in 2011 failed, with officials providing no explanation.

PHOTO GALLERY: Monkeys In Space

Animals -- in particular monkeys -- have a long history of space travel. Fruit flies were the first living things in 1947 to make it to space, as part of the U.S. program -- they also made it back alive.

The focus switched to monkeys, presumably because of their intelligence and biological similarities to man, which meant researchers could better test the feasibility of space flight for humans.

The first primate astronaut was Albert, a rhesus monkey, who suffocated in a V2 rocket after reaching 62 kilometers, short of the 100 kilometers required to reach space. But the first monkey in space was Albert's successor, Albert II, who reached 134 kilometers. He perished on the way back due to a parachute malfunction.

The first monkeys to reach space and return safely were Able and Miss Baker in 1959, traveling on a U.S. "Jupiter" missile.

The first animal to orbit the Earth was the legendary Soviet stray dog, Laika. The plan was to euthanize Laika in space seven days into the mission with poisoned food. But due to an equipment malfunction she died of stress and heat exhaustion after a few hours.

Iran is hoping for better success. Fazeli said the monkey project would help Iran prepare for "sending a man into space," scheduled for 2020.

Iran's space program has unsettled the West, which fears it could be used to develop missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. But Tehran says its program is for scientific and civilian purposes only.

-- RFE/RL's Central Newsroom

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