Orbital Simians from Persia

With a title like, that, the subject is bound to be interesting.

The Islamic Republic of Iran says it successfully sent a monkey into space on Monday and retrieved the animal alive. If true, the mission represents a major step towards the nation putting human astronauts into orbit.

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA, said in a statement that the successful launch of and retrieval of the satellite was “a prelude to sending humans into space.” Other reports from state-run media say the monkey traveled on a Kavoshgar rocket in a space capsule code named Pishgam (“Pioneer”) to an altitude of 120 kilometers, and was retrieved alive after returning to earth.

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My own $0.02:

Say what you like about the Islamic Republic, every official announcement they make must be taken with a grain of salt. As they saying goes, trust the dealer but cut the cards.

Iran has developed some pretty advanced missile technology, so it is entirely within the realm of possibility that have indeed put a monkey into orbit and returned it safely. Putting an animal in space is not too terribly difficult, but getting it there alive and bringing it back is fiendishly difficult. That being said, there are many clever Iranian engineers.

Additionally, the links between Iran and Russia/China are well know. Now, only three nations have ever put a human being in orbit with their own machinery: The Soviet Union, The United States, and China, in that order. Given that China depends on Iran for a solid chunk of its oil imports, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Iran may have received advanced rocketry know-how in exchange for preferential access to oil.

As I mentioned, Iran does indeed have advanced missile technology, a solid core of engineers, and possibly some tips and hints from their Chinese allies. Taken together, it is certainly possible this report is true.

An optimist would believe that Iran is developing this technology for commercial/exploratory purposes, as space will likely become the next big economic zone. A pessimist would say that they are doing this as a cover up for long range, possibly nuclear armed missile, as the technology is essentially identical. A realist might believe both.

Regardless, if Iranian space technology is indeed being used for commercial or scientific purposes, then they are to be commended. Putting live animals in space and retrieving them safely is no small feat. In addition, the spin-off industries and huge numbers of professional engineers and scientists generated can only be a boon to the country, much like NASA in the Apollo days.

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