February 3, 2010

Iran Sends Animals Into Space With New Research Rocket

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Wednesday that Iran had successfully launched a research rocket carrying a mouse, two turtles and worms into space, The Associated Press reported.

The Iranian president said the feat demonstrated that Iran could defeat the West in the battle of technology, as he unveiled the model of a light booster rocket that is being built and three new, Iranian-built satellites, touted as the latest achievements in the country's ambitious space program.

But many Western leaders have feared the Iranian space program could develop the same technology used to launch satellites and research capsules as a way to launch long-range intercontinental missiles and deliver warheads.

"There is no scientific purpose to launching such animals into space and such a launch is likely more aimed at boosting Iran's prestige," said one U.S. defense expert.

James Lewis, senior fellow at Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AP that if they had wanted to test a life-support system, the obvious choice would be to send a monkey.

"Worms in space serve no purpose," he added.

Lewis said the launch was clearly part of Iran's effort to advance military technology and assert political dominance in space, as well as being a show of confidence.

"Space rockets give you prestige and influence, and that is what Iran seeks," he said.

To mark the National Day of Space Technology, Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi gave the order to launch the rocket Kavoshgar-3, which means Explorer-3 in Farsi.

The launch comes just a year after Iran sent its first domestically made telecommunications satellite, called Omid, or Hope, into orbit for 40 days.

Images of officials putting a mouse, two turtles and about a dozen creatures that looked like worms inside a capsule in the rocket, which appeared to be about 10 feet long, were aired Wednesday by Iran's state TV -- just before showing footage of the rocket blasting off.

Vahidi revealed no information on what experiment the animals would serve on board or when or where the launch took place.

President Ahmadinejad praised the latest launch and said greater events would come in the future.

"The scientific arena is where we should defeat the (West's) domination. This is the first presence of animals in space launched by Iran. It's the start of bigger achievements," Ahmadinejad said in remarks broadcast live on state TV.

Iran has been showcasing its technological successes as signs it can advance despite the threat of U.S. and U.N. sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.

Western leaders are concerned that Iran is trying to build an atomic weapon. However, Tehran denies the charge and says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

Iran built the Mesbah-2 with domestic technology after foreign partners refused to cooperate, according to Ahmadinejad. Both Italy and Russia declined to help Iran launch its Mesbah project.

The launch ceremony on Wednesday was part of 10-day celebrations leading up to 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, which falls on Feb 11.

Iran has stated that its space plans also include putting a man in orbit within 10 years.


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