Space shuttle Discovery landed for the last time earlier this month, ending an era and opening the doors for new nations and new corporations to take over the exploration of space. What NASA, the US and pretty much everybody else were not expecting was that Iran would be one of those new nations.

According to the Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran's space program entered a new age this week, after the launch of the Kavoshgar-4 rocket into space on March 15. The rocket carried with it a capsule designed to accommodate a monkey, but for this first launch, a dry run, the capsule carried no primate into orbit.

The Iranians say they were expecting to receive data and images from the capsule as it reached a height of 120 km (75 miles). Whether they did, or what they received, remains a mystery so far.

Already sparking fears in the Western world about possible deadly Iranian death rays from outer space, at least at an official level the country's space program is a peaceful one.

Iran says, in the usual bombastic style, that it plans to send a human being into orbit by the end of the decade and place the Iranian flag on the moon by 2025. And since the Americans have no plans of returning there for some time, the Iranians might even get the green light to burn the US flag, on location. With a blowtorch, of course...

Jokes aside, congrats to the Iranians for what they've accomplished, peacefully, this week. We only hope they stick to sending monkeys and unarmed astronauts into space, and not Iranian Republican Guards and nukes...

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