Iranians are making fun of an Iranian official for posting a picture of an astronaut suit adorned with an Iranian flag that seems to be a photoshopped version of a children's Halloween space costume.
Iranian Information and Communications Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi issued the image on February 4 with the hashtag #bright_future. Without any explanation at the time, it was unclear if he was trying to fool people into believing it was an actual Iranian-issue space suit or just a joke.
Azari Jahromi's vague tweet was quickly met with derision, criticism, and humorous memes by Iranians on social media amid allegations the minister was, in fact, trying to trick his countrymen into believing the image was an actual suit for the government's ambitious but not-ready-for-prime-time space program.
He later clarified that the image was "the picture of a dream, the dream of walking on the moon." He added that he found the many jokes posted online to be "interesting."
Speaking at a Tehran event titled Space Technologists' Gathering, Azari Jahromi said his tweet "was the introduction to good news."
"The suit wasn't really important because we haven't made an Iranian space suit, yet work is being done to create a special outfit for Iranian space scientists," he backpedaled.
That didn't stop the torrent of jokes.
"He bought a Halloween space costume [for] $20, removed [the] NASA logo while sewing an Iranian flag on it. He's promoting it as a national achievement," a user said in reaction to the image.
Some posted memes to mock the minister, including a video of an astronaut dancing to Iranian music with the hashtag #The_Dance_of_Iranians_In_space #Bright_future.
Another user posted a photoshopped photo of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin wearing the suit Azari Jahromi had posted on Twitter.
Azari Jahromi -- an avid Twitter user who's been blacklisted by Washington for his role in censoring the Internet in Iran, where citizens are blocked from using Twitter and other social-media sites -- has been promoting Iran's space program in recent days while announcing that Tehran will launch a satellite, Zafar ("Victory" in Persian), into orbit by the end of the week.
Azari Jahromi said on February 4 that his country had taken the first step in the quest to send astronauts into space. "The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology has ordered manufacturing five space capsules for carrying humans to space to the Aerospace Research Center of the Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology," he was quoted as saying on February 4 by the semiofficial Mehr news agency.
Iran had two failed satellite launches in January and February of last year and a third attempt later in the year resulted in the explosion of a rocket on the launch pad.
But Azari Jahromi said on Twitter on February 3 that Tehran was not afraid of failure and that "we will not lose hope" of having a successful space program.
Do Monkeys Get Space Suits?
Iran does have a recent history of sending creatures into orbit, much to the consternation of animal-rights activists around the world.
In 2010, a Kavoshgar-3 rocket was launched by Iran with a rodent, two turtles, and several worms into suborbital space and they reportedly returned to Earth alive.
A Kavoshgar-5 carrying a monkey was launched into suborbital space in 2011 but it was said to have failed, though there was no information about the unidentified monkey on board.
Iran sent another monkey up on a Pishgam capsule two years later that it said was successful. However, no timing or location of the launch was ever announced, leaving many to doubt it had taken place. A second monkey, named Fargam, was said to have made a similar trip into suborbital space nearly a year later.
Iran's planned satellite launch this week comes amid heightened tensions with the United States, which has accused the Islamic republic of using its space program as a cover for missile development.
Iranian officials maintain their space activities do not violate United Nations resolutions and that there is no international law prohibiting such a program.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have increased since the withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal in May 2018 and the reimposition of sanctions that have devastated Iran's economy.
In early January, the United States assassinated Iran's top military commander, Qasem Soleimani, in a drone attack. Tehran retaliated a few days later by launching a missile strike on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.