Monkeygate is over!
Responding to allegations that Iran either faked its latest rocket launch or lied about the survival of its space-going primate, the country admitted that the two pictures it released show off different monkeys, but that the animal did, in fact, make it back alive.
"I say this with certainty that the monkey is in good health and the space flight didn't have any physical effect on Pishgam [the monkey]," said Iranian official Mohammad Ebrahimi to the Associated Press. "Some of the photos released by one of news agencies were not related to the time of flight. They were archive photos of the monkeys being prepared for the launch."
Previous reports stated that "Pisgham," which means "Pioneer" in Farsi, was the name of the rocket Iran launched. Apparently, it's actually the name of the monkey.
So what happened? Prior to the rocket's launch, Iranian media published an image of a monkey with a red mole/birthmark over its right eye. Pictures after the animal's "safe" return, however, presented a primate with no mole, not to mention a darker coat of fur. Needless to say, speculation started flowing.
Although a fairly innocent image mix-up is far less intriguing than a faked space launch, conspiracy theorists shouldn't be too disappointed, because as the AP debunked one theory it made sure to air out another idea.
Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell tracks rocket launches as well as space activity in general, and though he believes Iran when the country says it launched a primate into space this past week, he does think that the monkey with the red mole died. During a 2011 space launch that failed.
"The monkey with the mole was the one launched in 2011 that died," said McDowell. "The rocket failed. It did not get into space," McDowell said. "They just mixed that footage with the footage of the 2013 successful launch."
According to the AP, Iran has never officially confirmed that a monkey died in 2011, or that a launch even occurred.
Still, the theory makes sense. A quick Google search brings up this Los Angeles Times article, which cites "a top official in Iran's space program" admitting that the country's 2011 space monkey launch was a failure. Presumably, that means the primate died, but again there was no confirmation.
Iran plans to continue launching larger animals into space before attempting a manned mission within the next five or six years. The country says it also wants to send up satellites to monitor natural disasters and improve telecommunications, which sounds very nice and noble until you realize that we're talking about Iran and nobody believes anything its officials say.