Iranian officials are claiming that a simple mix-up of files is to blame for the fact that their photos of the monkey they allegedly shot into space do not match. According to the Associated Press, a spokesperson for the Iranian government said that one of the two different monkeys portrayed in state-released photos did travel into space and back. The second monkey’s photos were included by mistake, he said.
Journalists and internet users noted on Friday that official photos of the simian astronaut showed two different monkeys, one significantly lighter colored than the other and bearing a distinctive mole over its eye, four days after the country’s space agency announced that it had successfully sent a monkey to space.
Mohammad Ebrahimi told the AP that five monkeys were trained for the mission, a number that was narrowed down to three, then one, a monkey named Pishgam, the Farsi word for “pilgrim,” was chosen. The photos of the second monkey, he said, were mistakenly included archival photos of another monkey being trained for the launch.
“I say this with certainty that the monkey is in good health and the space flight didn’t have any physical effect on Pishgam,” he said. “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.”
Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell told the AP that this week’s 20-minute space flight was real, that the monkey had likely survived, but that the lighter colored monkey with its mole was a monkey that died in a previous test.
“The monkey with the mole was the one launched in 2011 that died. The rocket failed. It did not get into space,” McDowell said. “They just mixed that footage with the footage of the 2013 successful launch.”
James Oberg, an NBC News space consultant and retired rocket scientist told BuzzFeed, “It’s possible they’re lying about it. It would be kind of a bold lie to make.”
State-run media in Iran claimed on Jan. 28 that Pishgam was shot up to an altitude of 75 miles (125 km) before returning safely to Earth. Western nuclear monitoring groups have expressed concern that the Iranian government is using its space program as a cover for long range missile testing.