Iran launches space rocket

Iran has launched a rocket carrying a mouse, turtles and worms into space for research purposes, the country's defence minister says.

'It's the start of bigger achievements,' Ahmadinejad says

Iran announced Wednesday it has successfully launched a three-metre-long research rocket carrying a mouse, two turtles and worms into space — a feat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said showed Iran could defeat the West in the battle of technology.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, centre, gestures towards a model of Iran's new booster rocket, named Simorgh, in Tehran on Wednesday. ((Associated Press))
The launch of the Kavoshgar-3, which means Explorer-3 in Farsi, was announced by Defence Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi as part of Iran's ambitious space program. It comes a year after Iran sent its first domestically made telecommunications satellite into orbit.

The program has worried Western powers that fear the same technology used to launch satellites and research capsules could also deliver warheads.

Iranian state television broadcast images Wednesday of officials putting a mouse, two turtles and about a dozen creatures that looked like worms inside a capsule in the rocket before it blasted off.

Vahidi gave no details on the research and the report did not disclose when or where the launch took place.

The rocket is the third in a series bearing the same name. Iran reported launching Kavoshgar-1, or Explorer-1, in February 2008. The first section of the rocket detached after 90 seconds and returned to earth with the help of a parachute. A second segment entered space for about five minutes, while the final stage was sent toward orbit to collect data.

Later in 2008, Kavoshgar-2 made it to the lower reaches of space and returned to the ground 40 minutes later on a parachute. No details about that launch were reported.

Ahmadinejad praised the latest launch and said greater events would come in the future.

'Start of bigger achievements'

"The scientific arena is where we could defeat the (West's) domination," Ahmadinejad said in remarks broadcast live on state TV. The launch is a "very big event," he declared. "This is the first presence of animals in space launched by Iran. It's the start of bigger achievements."

Also Wednesday, Ahmadinejad unveiled a new domestically built light booster rocket, named Simorgh, as well as three Iranian-built satellites — Mesbah-2, Tolo and Navid-e-Elm-o-Sanat — all part of a National Day of Space Technology.

Officials said the Simorgh rocket can carry a satellite weighing 100 kilograms up to 500 kilometres above the Earth.

As it seeks to expand its influence in the Middle East, Iran touts such technological successes as signs it can advance despite the threat of American and United Nations sanctions over its controversial nuclear program. The West is concerned Iran is trying to build an atomic weapon but Tehran insists its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, such as electricity production.

Ahmadinejad said Iran built the Mesbah-2 satellite with domestic technology after foreign partners refused to co-operate. He didn't name any country, but Iran said last year that it planned to launch a communications satellite by late 2011 with no outside help, after Italy and Russia declined to put it into orbit.

Its predecessor, the Mesbah-1, was first displayed in 2005. Iran planned to launch it the same year with Russian help but Moscow repeatedly delayed providing a satellite carrier.

"Mesbah-1 had a sad fate … they didn't have the courage to launch our satellite," Ahmadinejad said. He added that the Mesbah-2 would be launched using an Iranian-made rocket.

Iran's lofty space plans include putting a man into orbit within 10 years.

Wednesday's space technology observance was part of 10-day celebrations leading up to the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on Feb. 11.