An image grab from Iran's English-language official Press TV station… (-, AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Beirut — Iran announced that it fired a powerful rocket loaded with a rat and several other live animals into space Wednesday, a week before a national holiday and amid heightened international concerns about Tehran's nuclear research and missile programs.
The launch of the Kavoshgar-3 satellite carrier and the unveiling of other new technology coincided with Iran's annual Space Day, as well as the buildup to the Feb. 11 anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
State television aired video of the flying Kavoshgar-3, and photos posted on news websites showed a rat strapped into a space pod. Reports said two turtles and worms were also aboard. Officials said it was the first time Iran has launched living organisms into space.
"These miraculous satellite projects are, in fact, key to the connection between God and mankind," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at a ceremony, state radio reported. "Today, Iranian scientists are capable of capturing the skies."
He predicted that Iran would dispatch humans into space and said it was "two steps away from reaching a point of no return" in its space program, which has worried the West because of its potential to bolster Iran's 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 300 miles above Earth, Iranian news reports said.
Three satellites unveiled were the solar-powered Tolou, which can take photos and transmit them to Earth; the Mesbah-2, which can provide telecommunications to remote areas; and the Navid, an imaging satellite designed by students.
Iran sent its first satellite, the Omid, into orbit last year amid patriotic fervor in the buildup to the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. But the discord that followed Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection has largely dissipated the spirit of unity.
Authorities are trying to bolster the nation's spirits before the annual commemorations, which the opposition plans to turn into an antigovernment rally.