Iran sends monkey into space, claims progress in space mission

Iran on Monday took a "big step" towards sending astronauts into space by 2020, successfully launching a monkey above the Earth's atmosphere, Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi told state television.

Arabic-language channel Al-Alam and other Iranian news agencies said the monkey returned alive after travelling in a capsule to an altitude of 120 kilometres for a sub-orbital flight.

"This success is the first step towards man conquering the space and it paves the way for other moves," General Vahidi said, but added that the process of putting a human into space would be a lengthy one.

"Today's successful launch follows previous successes we had in launching (space) probes with other living creatures (on board)," he said, referring to the launch in the past of a rat, turtles and worms into space.

"The monkey which was sent in this launch landed safely and alive and this is a big step for our experts and scientists," Vahidi said.

Iranian state television showed still pictures of the capsule and of a monkey being fitted with a vest and then placed in a device similar to a child's car-seat.

A previous attempt in 2011 by the Islamic republic to put a monkey into space failed. No official explanation was ever given.

A defence ministry statement quoted by Iranian media said earlier Iran had "successfully launched a capsule, codenamed Pishgam (Pioneer), containing a monkey and recovered the shipment on the ground intact."

It did not give details on the timing or location of the launch.

Iran announced in mid-January its intention to launch a monkey into orbit as part of "preparations for sending a man into space," which it aims to do by 2020. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has indicated on several occasions the intention to launch an astronaut for "observation" purposes by Iran's scientists.

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