Was the Iranian monkey space launch faked?

Before (right) and after photos of the monkey that Iran says they launched into space. (Photos: AP/Reuters)It seems that Iran's claims of a successful space launch earlier this week were a little overwrought. Images released by the Iranian government — supposedly depicting the monkey before and after the launch — don't appear to match up, casting further doubt on their claims and raising suspicions that the launch may have been faked.

[ Related: Iran's Space Monkey Launch Prompts Missile Tech Concerns ]

On Monday, Al-Alan, the Iranian state news channel, claimed that a Pishgam rocket had carried a small rhesus monkey 120 kilometers into space, and that the animal had been safely retrieved when its capsule landed.

Iran's defense minister, General Ahmad Vahidi, said in a statement: "Today's successful launch follows previous successes we had in launching (space) probes with other living creatures (on board). The monkey which was sent in this launch landed safely and alive and this is a big step for our experts and scientists."

However, even on Monday there was no independent verification of the launch by sources outside Iran, and doubts had already been expressed by several space experts regarding Iran's capability of launching a monkey into space.

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The latest evidence to surface is a comparison shot of the monkey that supposedly made the space flight. Although of the same species, the monkey pictured on the right (taken before the launch) has a large mole above its right eye, while the monkey pictured on the left (taken after the launch) does not.

Even while the launch was initially reported, concerns had been raised that this was a cover-up for Iran testing missile launch systems, since Tehran has been banned by the United Nations from participating in any ballistic missile research or testing.

As for the fate of the unfortunate monkey, given the evidence at hand, it's fairly unlikely he survived his journey.

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