We Have Some Bad News About Iran's Space Monkey

Iran's failed monkey launch is part of its ambitious space program

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Those of you who were not distracted by the alleged Iranian plot to kill Saudi Arabia's U.S. ambassador might have seen the news yesterday that Iran's attempt to launch a monkey into space failed. But lost in much of the coverage was a burning question: what about the monkey? Well, we have some bad news: Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News is one of the few outlets that tackles the thorny subject. "Sadly, those unfulfilled objectives cost the life of the test subject, the monkey," the paper writes, citing the Turkish television channel NTV. "When the capsule failed to reach its destination, the monkey died." Of course, Iran's deputy science minister, Mohammad Mehdinejad-Nouri, did not dwell on this simian space tragedy when he told, according to the AFP's reports, the ISNA news agency "all of [the] anticipated objectives" of the Kavoshgar-5 rocket carrying a capsule with a live monkey to space "were not accomplished."

Iran, which launched its first satellite into orbit in 2009 and sent a rat, turtles, and worms into space aboard a Kavoshgar-3 rocket in 2010, unveiled its space monkey mission back in February as a prelude to launching a man into space by 2020 (the picture above shows a presumably still living monkey behind the window of a Kavoshgar-4 during a February ceremony in Tehran). Israeli and Western officials worry that the rocket technology Iran is honing might help the country develop ballistic missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads. But Iran has been busy building its animal-centric space program nonetheless. The country successfully launched a monkey-less Kavoshgar-4 in March and announced in June that it was submitting five monkeys to tests in the hopes of launching one into space for a 20-minute sub-orbital flight the following month. In August, Hamid Fazeli, the head of the Iranian Space Agency, promised that the rhesus monkey would embark on its flight by the end of the summer. Earlier this month, before Mehdinejad-Nouri's remarks, Iran announced that it would be postponing its plans to send a live monkey into space indefinitely without explaining why. The answer seems somehow clearer now.

Iran, of course, isn't the first country to kill a monkey in space. A 2009 NPR article noted that monkey flights failed for over a decade after America first tried to send the animal into space in 1948:

In one case, the rocket exploded. Another monkey died on impact when its parachute failed. After another parachute failure, a monkey plummeted into the sea and was never recovered. One monkey mission saw the animals return home safely, but their vehicle hadn't traveled high enough for them to actually reach space.

NPR tells us that the first animal to orbit the planet was a dog named Laika, who was launched in 1957 in Sputnik 2 but didn't survive the flight (the first living organisms to make the journey appear to have been fruit flies). In "A Brief History of Animals in Space," NASA argues that animals unfortunately had to die to enable human space exploration:

Without animal testing in the early days of the human space program, the Soviet and American programs could have suffered great losses of human life. These animals performed a service to their respective countries that no human could or would have performed. They gave their lives and/or their service in the name of technological advancement, paving the way for humanity's many forays into space.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.