Iran says fires first rocket into space

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran said on Sunday it had successfully launched its first rocket into space for research purposes, at a time of mounting tension with the West over its nuclear programme.
The rocket reached an altitude of 150 kilometres (93 miles) but did not stay in orbit, said Ali Akbar Golrou, deputy head of Iran's aerospace research centre.
He described the rocket as a "sounding rocket" -- one used for research purposes -- and said it returned to earth with the assistance of a parachute, the Fars news agency reported.
"The first space rocket has been successfully launched into space," a state television anchor announced.
"The rocket was carrying material intended for research created by the ministries of science and defence," Mohsen Bahrami, the head of the aerospace centre, told the channel.
He did not give further details on the nature of the payload. State television has yet to broadcast pictures of the launch.
The altitude of 150 kilometres is above the internationally accepted boundary between the earth's atmosphere and space, which is agreed at 100 kilometres (62 miles) above the surface and is known as the Karman line.
Iran's claim of success in launching a space rocket appears to be the first major step towards its stated ambition of putting home-made satellites into space using Iranian-made rockets.
Iran has in recent years pressed ahead with a nascent space programme, which has already seen an Iranian Russian-made satellite put into orbit by a Russian rocket in October 2005.
That satellite, Sina-1, was Iran's first -- and so far only -- probe to be launched into space, and was described by the Iranian press at the time as being for research and telecommunications.
Iran has said it plans to construct and launch several more satellites over the next three years.
Officials were quick to emphasise that the rocket had been manufactured using Iran's own resources, echoing similar statements about its nuclear programme.
"All the tests (leading up to the launch) have been carried out in the country's industrial facilities in line with international regulations," said Bahrami.
"The manufacture of the rocket and the cargo was achieved by experts at the centre of aerospace research and the engineering centre at the ministry of agricultural planning," he added.
Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar said the US trade embargo imposed after the Islamic revolution in 1979 had spurred Iran to press ahead with its own space programme.
"The sanctions of the enemies in the area of aerospace have allowed us to develop our aviation, space and electronics industries," he said.
"We are working on constructing satellites and on rockets capable of launching a satellite into space."
The Islamic republic has recently boasted of its scientists' progress not just in nuclear energy but also in medicine, where it has announced the development of new therapies for AIDS and spinal-cord disorder patients.
Iran has also announced it is developing a plasma-thrusting engine to help guide satellites in its space programme.
Iran's announcement that it has succeeded in launching its first rocket into space comes amid mounting tensions with the United States over Tehran's nuclear programme, which Washington alleges is a cover for weapons development.
OPEC's number two producer denies the charges, saying its atomic drive is solely aimed at supply energy for a growing population.
US Vice President Dick Cheney on Saturday reignited speculation of US military intervention in Iran when he said Washington favours a diplomatic approach to Tehran's atomic programme but that "all options are still on the table."

Copyright 2007 Agence France Presse.
I think not
I wonder why Canada has never developed a Space Program.

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