By ALI AKBAR DAREINI,
Associated Press Writer TEHRAN, Iran—Iran announced Wednesday it has successfully launched a 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.
Ahmadinejad also unveiled the model of a light booster rocket that is being built and three new, Iranian-built satellites, touted as the latest in the country's ambitious space program.
A U.S. defense expert said the choice of animals served no purpose but that the launch meant to boost the nation's confidence and underlined the closeness of its space and military programs.
The Iranian space program has worried Western powers, which fear the same technology used to launch satellites and research capsules could also be used to build long-range intercontinental missiles and deliver warheads.
The launch of the rocket Kavoshgar-3, which means Explorer-3 in Farsi, was announced by Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi to mark the National Day of Space Technology. It comes a year after Iran sent its first domestically made telecommunications satellite, called Omid, or Hope, into orbit for 40 days.
Iran's state TV 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, which appeared to be about 10 feet long, before it blast off.
Vahidi gave no details on the research and there was no information on what experiment the animals would serve on board. The report also did not disclose when or where the launch took place.
Kavosghar-3 is the third in a series bearing the same name. Iran reported launching Kavoshgar-1, or Explorer-1, in Feb. 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 section was sent toward orbit to collect data.
Later in 2008, a rocket entitled Kavoshgar-2, made it to the lower reaches of space and returned to earth 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.
"The scientific arena is where we should defeat the (West's) domination," Ahmadinejad said in remarks broadcast live on state TV. He said the launch is a "very big event. This is the first presence of animals in space launched by Iran. It's the start of bigger achievements" to come.
The model of the light booster rocket, named Simorgh, was displayed at a space show in Tehran, along with the three new Iranian-built satellites - Mesbah-2, Tolo and Navid-e-Elm-o-Sanat.
Officials said the Simorgh rocket can carry a satellite weighing 220 pounds (100 kilograms) up to 310 miles (500 kilometers) above the Earth. Ahmadienjad said the Simorgh would carry Mesbah-2 into space but gave no timeframe for that.
As it seeks to expand its influence in the Middle East, Iran showcases its technological successes as signs it can advance despite the threat of U.S. and U.N. sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.
The West is concerned Iran is trying to build an atomic weapon but Tehran denies the charge and says it's nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, such as electricity production.
"The launch was clearly part of Iran's effort to advance military technology and assert political dominance in space," said James Lewis, senior fellow at Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It's also a show of confidence. Space rockets give you prestige and influence, and that is what Iran seeks."
Ahmadinejad said Iran built the Mesbah-2 with domestic technology after foreign partners refused to cooperate. He didn't name any country, but Iran said last year that it plans 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 satellite, was first displayed in 2005. Iran planned to launch it the same year with Russian help but Moscow repeatedly delayed providing a satellite-carrier.