A top Iranian space official has admitted that one of two official photos of the monkey the country sent into space actually showed the wrong animal, though insisted they really did shoot a simian into orbit and have it return to Earth safely.
Mohammad Ebrahimi told the Associated Press Saturday that images of two different monkeys were released by Iranian media. One was the real space-traveling primate, the other was an archive photo of a backup monkey.
Following Iran’s announcement of its landmark achievement Monday — and the heartbreaking image of the strapped-down animal — speculation swirled about the veracity of the claim. Space Israel, a nonprofit Israeli organization, pointed out that the image of the monkey after it supposedly returned from flight was markedly different from the image of the monkey before it went up.
“It looks like a very different monkey, the nose, the features, everything is different,” Space Israel founder and CEO Yariv Bash told the Telegraph. “This means that either the original monkey died from a heart attack after the rocket landed or that the experiment didn’t go that well.”
Ebrahimi said the monkey, “Pishgam,” or “pioneer” in Farsi, did successfully travel in space for a brief trip. Iran has said it plans to send an astronaut into space as part of its program.
Iran’s space program has long stoked fears that the technology could be used to develop long-range missiles.