By Thomas Erdbrink
Thursday, February 4, 2010; A10
TEHRAN -- Iran said it successfully fired a new, domestically produced research rocket into space Wednesday with several live animals aboard -- a feat that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said illustrated his country's technological prowess.
State television broadcast images of the launch of the Kavoshgar-3 (Explorer-3), showing officials putting a mouse, two turtles and about a dozen creatures that looked like worms inside a capsule that was placed in the rocket before it blasted off.
The launch, part of Tehran's ambitious space program, could boost Western concerns about Iran's missile program, since some space rockets can be equipped with warheads and used as intercontinental missiles.
On Tuesday, Iranian officials reacted angrily to moves by the United States to expand land- and sea-based missile defense systems in and around the Persian Gulf to deter Iranian missile attacks. They called the rationale "an excuse" to widen U.S. influence in the region, saying Washington is seeking to generate "Iran-phobia."
Ahmadinejad also appeared Tuesday to back a deal to remove most of Iran's enriched uranium from the country, a proposal Tehran rejected several weeks ago.
On Wednesday, Ahmadinejad also unveiled three domestically made satellites, a booster rocket that can carry a satellite and a study center for satellite data, local news media reported. Iran sent its first satellite into orbit in 2009, marking the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.
"If last year was our first presence in space, this year is our living creatures' first presence in space," Ahmadinejad said in a speech that was broadcast live to mark Space Technology Day. "This is a sign of bigger achievements to come."
The capsule that the Kavoshgar-3 rocket carried into space landed safely later Wednesday, and studies of the animals inside are underway, the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported.
The news agency also said that the rocket launch was a joint project between the defense and science ministries and the aerospace research center.
The Kavoshgar-3 is a multistage rocket. Wednesday's launch was the third in a series of apparently successful tests. In 2008, an older version of the rocket made it into space for 40 minutes; its capsule returned to Earth on a parachute.