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The New York Times May 31, 2017

Iran Drops Plan to Send Human Into Space, Citing Cost

By Rick Gladstone

When Iran’s scientists sent a monkey into space in 2013, the country’s president volunteered to be the first Iranian to blast aloft in a domestically built rocket, possibly as early as 2018.

But the term of that president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also expired in 2013. And now, apparently, so have Iran’s ambitions for homegrown human spaceflight.

The semiofficial ILNA news agency reported on Wednesday that the government-run space agency had canceled a project to launch a human-carrying rocket. It quoted Mohammad Homayoun Sadr, deputy head of the agency, as saying the $15 billion to $20 billion developmental costs over 15 years had been judged too expensive, according to a translation by The Associated Press.

In January 2013, when Iran said it had successfully launched a monkey named Pishgam — Persian for pioneer — more than 70 miles into the edge of space and then retrieved the animal alive, the experiment was regarded by Iranian scientists as a prelude to human flight within five to eight years. Previously, Iran had sent a mouse, a turtle and worms aloft.
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Elated over the success, Mr. Ahmadinejad declared, “I’m ready to be the first Iranian to sacrifice myself for our country’s scientists.”

Less than a year ago, the Iranian space agency was claiming that it had made advances toward human spaceflight, even showing off a mock-up of a capsule.

Adversaries of Iran have long been concerned about its space program, largely because the rocket science used to launch a human payload could also apply to a nuclear warhead delivered via a ballistic missile.

But in 2015, under Mr. Ahmadinejad’s successor, Hassan Rouhani, Iran reached an agreement with world powers to limit its nuclear activities in exchange for eased economic sanctions.

Mr. Rouhani, who was just re-elected to a second term, has faced growing concerns over high unemployment and other economic problems in Iran that have persisted despite the easing of nuclear-related sanctions.

So it is hardly a surprise that the plan of joining the small group of nations that have sent humans into space has been set aside.

“If they’re going to sustain robust growth, they need to spend on productivity-enhancing investments and creating jobs,” said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy that follows Iran.

“Nice-to-have, prestige projects will be vulnerable,” Mr. Kupchan said. “This space project seems to be a casualty.”

Charles P. Vick, an independent analyst formerly with GlobalSecurity.org, a defense intelligence research group, said Iran’s scientists had also encountered “a lot of technical problems” in developing launch vehicles for human spaceflight.

“They were really trying to take on something that was far larger than they perceived,” Mr. Vick said. “Dreams are wonderful, but dreams have to come down to reality.”

Copyright 2017, The New York Times Company