Iran announced that it fired a powerful rocket loaded with several live animals into space and unveiled a handful of other space technologies Wednesday, ahead of a nationalist holiday and amid heightened international concerns about Tehran's nuclear research and missile programs.
The launch of the 10-foot Kavoshgar-3 satellite carrier and the unveiling of the other technologies coincided with Iran's annual Space Day, as well as the buildup to the Feb. 11 anniversary of the Islamic Republic.
Photos posted to news Web sites showed a rat strapped into a space pod. Reports said two turtles and worms were also aboard.
"These miraculous satellite projects are, in fact, key to the connection between God and mankind," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said. "Today, Iranian scientists are capable of capturing the skies."
A U.S. defense expert said that there was no scientific purpose to launching such animals into space and that the launch was likely more aimed at boosting Iran's prestige.
To test a life-support system of use to humans, "the obvious choice would be to send a monkey," said James Lewis, senior fellow at Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Worms in space serve no purpose."
Ahmadinejad predicted that Iran would in the future dispatch astronauts beyond Earth's orbit. Iran's space program has worried the United States and other nations because of its potential to bolster its ballistic missile program.
Iran inaugurated seven projects Wednesday, including a satellite image processing center, a 3-D laboratory and plans for the four-engine, liquid-fuel Simorgh satellite carrier, which can transport a 220-pound object up to 300 miles above Earth, according to Iranian news outlets.
Los Angeles Times, Times wires