Iran's space program appears to have a monkey on its back -- literally. The head of the Islamic Republic's space agency today announced renewed plans to launch the critters into orbit despite a failed attempt last year, said Bloomberg, citing local reports.
“The monkeys that will be sent in a life capsule are for now in quarantine and are scheduled to be sent into space during the Fajr festival,” space agency head Hamid Fazeli was quoted by the semi-official Mehr News agency as saying today. The 10-day festival, which kicks off January 31, leads right into anniversary celebrations of the 1979 founding of the Islamic Republic in early February, according to Bloomberg.
Why monkeys? Well, maybe because people associate the animals with Darwin, therefore with the evolution of man, therefore progress -- thus explaining why officials would see a successful monkey run as paving the way for their planned manned space flight, as noted by Agence-France Press.
Indeed, Fazeli claims Iran will be able to send a man to space in as little as five years, adding, “monkeys have similarities to humans, so with them in space, we can examine human factors in space,” according to Mehr.
The Islamic Republic claims to have launched several rockets into space and has already put a rat, turtles, and worms into orbit, said AFP. Last year's attempt to see a monkey join them failed for reasons that remain unclear.
The monkey-bearing Pioneer (Pishgam) capsule will be launched on a Kavoshgar rocket, according to Fazeli. The Voice of Russia said two monkeys will be in the capsule.
Western nations view Iran's space exploration program with suspicion due to fears the Islamic Republic will use it to help develop its controversial nuclear program. Iran says its space program is purely for civilian purposes.