A chimp named Enos orbited the Earth on Nov. 29, 1961, paving the way for John Glenn's historic orbital flight of Feb. 20, 1962. (Again, the U.S. was slightly late to the party: Gagarin orbited our planet on his flight of April 12, 1961.)
After it became established that humans could indeed survive the rigors of spaceflight, monkeys and apes faded into the background. The U.S. continued to launch animals for scientific experiments but increasingly concentrated on smaller creatures such as mice and insects, which are easier to care for and take up much less space (although two squirrel monkeys did ride on the space shuttle Challenger's STS-51-B mission in April-May 1985.)
The United States' space race rival, the Soviet Union, primarily used dogs in the run-up to its first human launches, thinking that canines would prove to be less fidgety in flight than monkeys.
The Soviets launched their first dogs to space in 1951. The nation famously succeeded in lofting the first animal — a dog called Laika ("Barker") — to orbit aboard the Sputnik 2 spacecraft in November 1957. (Laika died during the flight.)
Despite its canine focus, the Soviet Union and its successor state Russia did launch a number of rhesus monkeys to space in the 1980s and 1990s, as part of a program called Bion. France also blasted two pig-tailed macaque monkeys to suborbital space in 1967.
Iran's recent launch was not its first attempt to send a monkey into space. A previous orbital effort in 2011 failed.
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