Persian cat
Iran plans to send Persian cat into space (Wiki commons)

The Iranian space agency has been criticised for plans to send a Persian cat into space.

Mohammad Ebrahimi, a senior space programme official, said that scientists had considered sending a monkey, a mouse, a rabbit or a cat to be the country's next animal astronaut, Iran's IRNA news agency said.

It would be the next step in the country's aerospace programme and has raised concerns in the West over its potential military applications.

The cat plan follows an apparently successful attempt to put a monkey into space. In January, officials said that they had sent a monkey into space and brought it back home.

However, their report was questioned after pre- and post-launch photos showed different monkeys. Ebrahimi said this was because state media had accidentally sent a photo of a standby monkey that was not used in the launch.

He insisted that only one monkey was sent 72 miles into space in a 20-minute flight.

Ebrahimi said the cat would be sent in a larger, liquid-fuelled rocket before March.

The change of rocket could be viewed as an attempt to ease concerns over Iran's space programme as President Hassan Rouhani looks to revive nuclear talks with world powers.

Questions were raised over the monkey Iran sent into space in January after before and after photos showed different animals (Reuters)

Iran said it wanted to place its own satellites in space to monitor natural disasters, improve telecommunications and expand military surveillance.

A spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said: "What is Iran doing, trying to repeat the wasteful and deadly mistakes that marked the Cold War-era space race when animals were sent into orbit?

"European and US space agencies stopped sending animals into space not only because it was unethical but also because they turned out to be poor models for the human experience and because superior, more scientific, non-animal methods of study are available.

"Iran's archaic experiment, seemingly straight from the playbook of [cartoon character] Wile E Coyote, is a throwback to the primitive techniques of the 1950s. If this is Iran's idea of progress, we should expect to see the rocket tunnelling into the Earth rather than leaving it for space."