Iran's recent announcement about the successful launch of a small monkey into space was greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism when pictures of the creature in its custom "car seat" first surfaced online.
But now, experts have stepped up their criticism of Iran's claim, with several scientists reporting that the space monkey could be a fraud.
The reports began circulating after images from a press conference showed a monkey that appeared markedly different than the one pictured getting strapped into the rocket, The Telegraph reports.
“It looks like a very different monkey, the nose, the features, everything is different,” Yariv Bash, founder and CEO of nonprofit Space Israel, told the paper. “This means that either the original monkey died from a heart attack after the rocket landed or that the experiment didn’t go that well."
The monkey strapped into the rocket appears to have light fur and a distinctive mole above its right eye. Yet, pictures of the monkey shown at the press conference appears to have darker fur. However, it's possible the differences are a result of different lighting and angles.
The Atlantic Wire's David Wagner reports that the photographic evidence seems pretty compelling: "This side-by-side comparison really reminds us of those before-and-after ads on the subway that show how easy losing weight can be—when you're able to morph into a completely different person."
Iranian missile expert Michael Elleman told The Sun that there had never been any independent confirmation that the launch happened in the first place, and several experts expressed similar doubts to BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray.
Last year, Iran attempted a similar launch, which ended in tragedy.
As the Atlantic Wire notes, Iran's deputy science minister Mohammad Mehdinejad-Nouri downplayed the failure, telling a state-run news agency, "All of [the] anticipated objectives" of the mission "were not accomplished."
Speculation surrounding Iran's most recent mission aside, there have been several monkeys launched into orbit that have subsequently returned to Earth unharmed. In 1951, the United States sent a monkey named Yorick into space. As NASA notes, it was the "first monkey to live through a space flight."