This week, Iran claimed to have gone where only a few countries have gone before – sending a primate into space and retrieving it alive. But now some eagle-eyed observers think there’s something funky about this monkey stunt.
On Monday, Iran’s state news agency broadcast images of a monkey, strapped to a harness, and said the animal was sent up 75 miles – technically outer space, but still at suborbital flight due to the trajectory of the spacecraft -- in a capsule codenamed Pishgam, or “pioneer.” After falling back to Earth, the monkey was then triumphantly displayed for the state media in a miniature silk tuxedo. The entire affair was supposedly a demonstration of the country’s march towards manned missions in space.
Yet some viewers have spotted discrepancies that suggest something is rotten in the state of Iran’s space program.
“It looks like a very different monkey, the nose, the features, everything is different,” Yariv Bash, founder and CEO of Israeli space nonprofit Space Israel, told the Telegraph on Friday.
Whereas the monkey shown in the harness had light-colored fur and a red mole over its right eye, the monkey in the tuxedo was dark-colored and unblemished. A side-by-side comparison makes the switcheroo seem laughably obvious:
“This means that either the original monkey died from a heart attack after the rocket landed or that the experiment didn’t go that well,” Bash said.
If Iran’s first monkey astronaut perished in the line of duty, he’d join a long line of simian comrades that have perished in space. America’s first attempt to use primate astronauts in 1948 failed when a V2 rocket exploded midflight, killing its passenger, a rhesus monkey named Albert. Albert II through Albert IV also met bad ends, falling prey to explosions and parachute failure.
In 1959, NASA successfully recovered live monkeys after space travel for the first time -- Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, and Able, a rhesus monkey.
An even simpler explanation is that the Iranian launch never actually took place, and that the Iranian space agency happened to have an extra monkey on hand for its press briefing.
On Monday, Buzzfeed talked to several experts that cast doubts about Iran’s claims.
"I would be surprised if they could do that, but that could be a cover for missile tests again," Robert Farquhar, a space exploration researcher, told Buzzfeed. "I didn't think they had something that could do that, certainly not to recover the monkey again."
Even if Iran was monkeying around with the press, government officials probably aren’t laughing. A fake monkey flight could be a “fig leaf you put on a military program you want to disguise or you want to camouflage," NBC News space consultant James Oberg told Buzzfeed. "It's murky."
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