Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wants to Be Iran's First Man in Space

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According to the Associated Press, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has volunteered to be Iran's first astronaut. Iran recently claimed to have launched a monkey into space, according to Space.com.

If Ahmadinejad achieves this ambition he would not, strictly speaking, be the first Iranian in space. That honor belongs to a woman who fled Iran's Islamic revolution and now resides in the United States.

Iran has expressed a desire for a manned space program

According to the Space.com story, Iran has expressed the ambition to launch a man into space by 2020 and land a man on the moon by 2025. The Associated Press reports that Ahmadinejad has announced his desire to be that man in an address to space scientists in Tehran. He said he was willing to "sacrifice myself" for Iran's space scientists.

Ahmadinejad a controversial figure

Ahmadinejad has been a controversial figure since his student days, when he was part of an Islamic organization agitated against the rule of the then Shah of Iran, according to Biography.com. It is rumored by has never been confirmed that Ahmadinejad was among the "students" who seized control of the Iranian Embassy in Tehran and took American diplomats as hostage for 444 days. Later he was apparently a volunteer in a paramilitary volunteer militia called the Basij in the war against Iraq in the Kurdish region. He is rumored to have participated, perhaps in the planning of, murders of Iranian dissidents in Europe. By 1989 he had completed a masters program in engineering at the Iran University of Science and Technology and had joined that institution's faculty. He also served in a number of government posts in the 1990s and early 2000s, including mayor of Tehran.

Ahmadinejad's turbulent presidency

Ahmadinejad was elected to the presidency of Iran in 2005 on a populist, Islamist platform, according to Biography.com. He has championed Iran's nuclear and rocket programs, pursued unrelenting hostility to the United States and the State of Israel, and has imposed Islamic law in Iran. He has made a number of controversial statements concerning the Nazi Holocaust and gays in Iran. He has not been successful in addressing Iran's political woes and his 2009 campaign for reelection was fraught with accusations of voter fraud and civil unrest, the latter brutally put down by Iranian security and paramilitary forces, including the on-camera murder of Neda Agha-Soltan, a college student who was a participant in the protests.

Iran's space program

Iran has launched a number of satellites into space, according to Space.com, including one said to contain a rat, two turtles and a worm, as well as two Earth observation satellites. Iran is alleged to have made one unsuccessful attempt to put a monkey into space before claiming the successful attempt in late January.

Ahmadinejad would not be the first Iranian in space

If Ahmadinejad, who has engineering training, is serious about his desire to be an astronaut and if that desire comes to fruition, he might become the first Iranian man in space, but not the first Iranian. The honor belongs to Anousheh Ansari, a woman refugee from the Iranian Islamic revolution who immigrated to the United States and became wealthy forming a technology company in Piano, Texas. Ansari, who also provided funding for the X Prize that resulted in the first private space flights in 2004, flew to the International Space Station as a private space traveler in September 2006.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.

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