Iran’s announcement on Monday that it had successfully launched a monkey into space and returned the primate safely to Earth was hailed by the country's media as a victory of the Iranian spirit over Western sanctions. But close examination of before and after photos released by Iran show what appears to be two different monkeys, indicating that Iran's space program may not be as advanced as the country would like to portray.
A distinctive red mole above the right eye of the monkey disappeared in the "after" photo. In addition, the monkey's fur seems to have changed colors from a light gray to a darker brown.
The launch had initially alarmed some in the West because the long-range ballistic technology used to propel Iranian satellites into orbit could be put to use dispatching nuclear warheads to a target.
“People are speaking about it a lot, and rightfully so,” said Brig-Gen. (res.) Asaf Agmon at the eighth annual Ilan Ramon International Space Conference in Herzliya. “[Iran’s] space program is connected to their missile program and the science you need to launch a monkey into space is the same that you need to send a warhead over the Atlantic Ocean, so there’s a connection and the world can’t ignore it.”
The new photo evidence could suggest that the launch of the "Pishgam" (Pioneer) craft did not actually take place, and might alleviate Western fears over Iranian advances in space technology.
Reuters and Ben Hartman contributed to this report