Iran on Monday took a "big step" towards sending astronauts into space by 2020 successfully launching a monkey above the Earth's atmosphere, Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi told state television.
Arabic-language channel Al-Alam and other Iranian news agencies said the monkey returned alive after travelling in a capsule to an altitude of 120 kilometers for a sub-orbital flight.
"This success is the first step towards man conquering the space and it paves the way for other moves," General Vahidi said, but added that the process of putting a human into space would be a lengthy one.
"Today's successful launch follows previous successes we had in launching (space) probes with other living creatures (on board)," he said, referring to the launch in the past of a rat, turtles and worms into space.
"The monkey which was sent in this launch landed safely and alive and this is a big step for our experts and scientists," Vahidi said.
Iranian state television showed still pictures of the capsule and of a monkey being fitted with a vest and then placed in a device similar to a child's car-seat.
A previous attempt in 2011 by the Islamic republic failed. No official explanation was ever given.
A defence ministry statement quoted by Iranian media said earlier Iran had "successfully launched a capsule, codenamed Pishgam (Pioneer), containing a monkey and recovered the shipment on the ground intact."
It did not give details on the timing or location of the launch.
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has indicated on several occasions the intention to launch an astronaut for "observation" purposes by Iran's scientists.
In October 2011 a deputy minister for science, Mohammad Mehdinejad-Nouri, said human space flight was a "strategic priority" for the country.
Iran's space programme deeply unsettles Western nations, which fear it could be used to develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads they suspect are being developed in secret.
The same technology used in space launch rockets can also be used in ballistic missiles. The Security Council has imposed on Iran an almost total embargo on nuclear and space technologies since 2007.
Tehran has repeatedly denied that its nuclear and scientific programmes mask military ambitions.