Iran successfully launched a research rocket into outer space carrying a mouse, two turtles and a worm Wednesday, but failed to put anything into orbit, two U.S. officials tell Fox News. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described the launch as a "very big event" and said it shows Iran can compete with the West in a battle of science and technology.
One U.S. official told Fox today's launch failed to demonstrate any advancement in Iranian rocket or missile capabilities. One year ago Iran managed to put its first domestically made satellite, called Omid, into orbit for 40 days before it fell back to Earth. In December Iran tested a medium range missile at roughly 1,500 kilometers, but to date has been unable to launch anything that falls into intermediate (3,000 to 5,000 km) or intercontinental (5,000+ km) category.
It's unclear whether Iran had intentions of putting either research tools or animals into orbit, but US officials say the rocket and all its contents have since returned to earth. The military and intelligence community keeps close watch over the Iranian space program because rocket technology tends to mirror that of ballistic missiles.
Iran's defense minister announced today the rocket is called a Kavoshgar-3, which means Explorer-3 in Farsi, and according to U.S. officials it performed similarly to the Kavoshgar-2 Iran tested in late 2008. That rocket traveled just beyond the Earth's atmosphere into the lower ranges of outer space before returning to Earth on a parachute. Experts say an object only needs to travel roughly 100 kilometers from Earth to reach outer space.
State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley told Fox's Shepard Smith Wednesday that Iran has an aggressive missile program which "threatens countries in the region and potentially threatens Europe as well." Crowley said the U.S. has worked hard to counter threats in the region with its own missile defenses and it still struggles to understand Iran's nuclear aspirations.
Last night President Ahmadinejad caught U.S. diplomats by surprise when he announced on state television he would accept a nuclear fuel-swap agreement overseen by the United Nations. The State Department said today that if Iran is serious about those intentions they need to talk to the IAEA to get the process started.