Iran said Monday that it had successfully sent a monkey into space and brought it home alive, according to Iranian state TV. The report included photos of a small, gray-tufted monkey strapped into a pod resembling an infant car-seat. The U.S. and its allies are worried that Iran is using its space program as cover for an effort to build long-range missiles that could carry nuclear warheads. Still, several countries, including the U.S., sent animals into space decades ago in the early days of their exploration of space. Here, a look at some of the animals that went where no human had gone before:
1. Albert (I through V)
The first living beings shot into space were fruit flies, in 1947. A year later, NASA put a male rhesus monkey, Albert, into a V-2 rocket. Albert died, possibly suffocating before launch, but a year later his successor, Albert II, would become the first monkey successfully launched into space. Sadly, Albert II died on landing because a parachute failed. Alberts III, IV, and V also died on impact or during flight.
2. Laika, the first dog in space
Soviet scientists sent mice, rabbits, and rats aloft in their early rocket tests. None made it back alive. In 1954, they sent two dogs, Dezik and Tsygan, on suborbital flights — on the theory they would move around less than monkeys. Both made it back alive. Then, in 1957, they put a dog named Laika on the Sputnik 2 flight. Laika had been a stray, which they figured would make her strong enough to survive the harsh conditions. For years, the Soviets maintained that Laika survived until her oxygen ran out on day 6. Documents uncovered in 2002, however, suggest she probably died from overheating after just a few hours.
3. Ham the Astrochimp
Perhaps the best-known of the animals blasted into space by the U.S. space program was Ham the Astrochimp. Ham, named for the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center where he was prepared for his flight, was one of 40 chimpanzees the Air Force used in tests at the New Mexico facility. At the height of America's space race with the Soviets, Ham was launched into space aboard a Mercury-Redstone rocket. He soared 160 miles above Earth, allowing engineers to test his vital signs to prepare for putting humans in space. He returned a hero, and lived the rest of his years in zoos, including the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. He died in 1983.
4. Iran's space monkey
Several nations followed America's example of putting monkeys into space. France launched two pig-tailed macaques, Martine and Pierrette, on suborbital flights in 1967. The Soviet/Russian Bion program put a parade of rhesus monkeys into space in the 1980s and '90s. The monkeys of Bion 9 — Zhakonya and Zabiyaka — set the monkey-space endurance record at 13 days, 17 hours. Then — better late than never — came Iran's flight. The Iranian-built rocket — called Pishgam (Pioneer, in Farsi) — reached a height of 72 miles, according to Iranian state TV. If the flight really was successful, it's a step forward for Iran. Its first attempt to put a monkey in space failed in 2011. A year earlier, however, it did manage to send up a mouse, a turtle, and several worms.