Iran has successfully launched a rocket carrying a monkey into space, according to Iranian state media, in what Iranian officials call a "prelude to sending humans into space."
The monkey was sent in an "indigenous bio-capsule" called Pishgam, which is Farsi for "Pioneer," according to Iran's Press TV. Pishgam reached an altitude of more than 75 miles and made a successful return, according to Iranian news agency Fars.
The head of Iran's space agency, Hamid Fazeli, said that Iran decided to send a monkey "because of biological similarities between humans and monkeys," according to Press TV. Iran's space agency had previously launched a test capsule designed to house the monkey in 2011.
Press TV billed the successful launch as a step toward being able to send humans into space, which Fazeli said will occur within the next five to eight years.
Over the past few years, Iran has made public its goal to complete a manned space mission -- a goal that has provoked concern from some U.S. politicians about Iran's true motives in developing new space technologies.
Iran first launched a satellite in 2005 from aboard a Russian rocket, at which point Iranian authorities declared they felt they would have to race to develop a space program before having restrictions imposed on them by Western nations.
"We have to move quickly and achieve our goals in space otherwise we will face political, economic and security threats," said Iranian space official Mohammad Reza Movaseghinia, according to the AP.
Iran unveiled its space center and launched its first research rocket in early 2008, which U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack at the time called a "troubling development."
"The kinds of technologies and capabilities that are needed in order to launch a space vehicle for orbit are the same kinds of capabilities and technologies that one would employ for a long-range ballistic missile," McCormack said.
In early 2010, Iran announced that it had successfully launched a research rocket carrying a mouse, two turtles and worms into space.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.