Late last month, Iran announced that their space program successfully sent a monkey into space. Riding the rocket called “Pishgam,” the monkey was sent into sub-orbital flight and returned safely. This was broadcasted as breaking news on some stations, and conspiracy theorists immediately jumped on the chance to expose a fraud. The real story of all this is the publicity the event received despite the fact that the successful monkey mission was not much more of an accomplishment than previous missions by the Iranian space program.
That being said, Iran’s last attempt to send a monkey into space failed in 2011 when neither the primate nor the rocket made it into space. However, earlier in 2010, Iran successfully sent worms, a rat, and a turtle into space. The fact that the most recent monkey flight was a success on launch and return was probably due to an improvement in the steadiness of acceleration and deceleration, according to Pat Norris–a satellite technology expert who briefed the BBC.
Conspiracy theorists have claimed that the footage of the monkey returning from its voyage is fraudulent, saying that the initial photograph before the launch depicted a monkey with a red mole on its face, while the photograph supposedly taken of the monkey upon its return featured a primate with no such mole. However, this was quickly revealed to be a misunderstanding. The monkey with the red mole was the one who tragically perished in the 2011 launch attempt. The poor guy never saw space. The fact that conspiracy theorists jumped on this news story is a sign of how suspicious the West is about any possible advance in the Iranian space program.
The monkey launch has garnered much concern among some western nations, who fear that the advancement of Iran’s space program could lead to their ability to launch long-range missiles, which could potentially carry nuclear warheads. No matter how justified or unjustified these concerns may be, Iran’s successful monkey voyage has changed little in the context of their ability to launch long-range missiles. Iran has been in possession of the rocket technology for some time. The Alborz Space Center launched its first satellite as part of a collaboration with Russia in 2005 and sent its first domestically-constructed satellite into orbit in 2009.
So, the question is: Should we, as westerners, be afraid of Iran’s space program? Is it really any concern of ours. It depends on which nations you listen to. In the West and especially the United States, we are trained to fear any advancement in Iranian technology as a threat to our safety, while Iran and Russian have repeatedly stated that the purposes of their advances are humanitarian in nature; the satellites being to monitor natural disasters, and the monkey project a step towards putting a man in space by 2019. For now, it’s probably best to write your essays and carry on.
Illustration: Monica Burns