An Iranian technician, left, holds a monkey Iran says went into space last week. The Iranian news agency also had released a photo of an Iranian technician holding a space-bound monkey with a wart or mole over its right eye. The Iranians insisted that they had safely sent a primate into space and back, but the State Department raised doubts Monday. (Iranian Students’ News Agency/AP)

The Iranians claimed Jan. 28 that they had successfully launched a monkey into space — setting off alarm bells among national security experts as well as animal rights organizations.

The national security folks were worried because such a launch would indicate significant progress toward that country’s long-range missile capabilities.

Pet lovers needed only to take one look at pictures provided by the Iranians of the terrified monkey and get outraged.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at the time that she didn’t have “any way to confirm this (launch) one way or the other with regard to the primate,” which she called “the poor little monkey.”

The mystery deepened Monday when, Nuland told reporters, the monkey Iran showed was missing the wart it had before the alleged flight.

(Well, maybe space travel does strange things?) So it appears that either the monkey never went up or never came back or they used a different monkey.

The Iranians, who insisted that the monkey went up and returned safely, blamed Iranian media for all this — sure, blame the press — because they used a photo of a backup monkey instead of the actual spacefaring simian.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also said Monday that he’d consider being Iran’s first man in space, which Nuland described as “an interesting choice,” the AP reported.