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Iran shows off space drive, irks US
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A rocket takes off at from an unidentified location in Iran in this video grab from February 4, 2008.  (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)


Iran on Monday showed off its space drive by launching its first space research center and firing a rocket designed to send its first home-made satellite, a move that immediately irked its arch foe, the United States.


Iran's official IRNA news agency reported that the center was inaugurated in the presence of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the headquarters of Iran's space organization in Tehran.


The report did not elaborate on the exact location of the center. But Iran's state-run Press TV channel said it is located in the northern Iranian province of Semnan.


"The launch of the first space research unit would be great stride to serve the mankind and would lead to Iran's exaltation and progress," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.


The country's first space research center will be used to launch Iran's first home-produced satellite "Omid" (Hope), IRNA reported, adding that the Omid satellite will be launched in the near future.



Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2nd L) counts down to the launch of a rocket being tested to carry an Iranian satellite into space, from the control centre for Iran's space programme near Tehran February 4, 2008.   (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)


According to Iran's state television, Iran on Monday also launched a rocket – Explorer 1. The rocket is designed to send the Omid satellite into orbit within the next Iranian year, which ends in March 2009.


"The first Iranian rocket Explorer-1 was fired into space," state television reported, "Iran has joined the world's top 11 countries that possess space technology to build satellites and launch rockets into space."


Local Fars news agency reported that the rocket blasted off from a launch pad in desert terrain in the northern Semnan province.


On the same day, the United States described Iran's launching a rocket into space as "unfortunate," which, the White House said, will isolate the Islamic republic from the international community.


"I saw this morning that Iran, again, tested a ballistic missile. It's unfortunate that they continue to do that because it further isolates the country from the rest of the world," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.


The United States has been accusing Iran of aiming to equip its missiles with nuclear warheads. Iran categorically denies the charges, insisting that its nuclear program is designed only to generate electricity and preserve its oil and gas for export.


Iran's Press TV channel reported the project for the Omid satellite took the Iranian experts 10 years to accomplish and the satellite itself is designed to function in a low earth orbit system.


In February 2007, Iran joined the international space-faring community when it successfully tested a rocket that went into space as part of its drive to launch five satellites into orbit by 2010, it said.


Iran has been pursuing a space program for the past few years. In October 2005, Iran's first satellite – the Russian-made Sina-1 – was put into orbit by a Russian rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome.


(Xinhua News Agency February 5, 2008) 

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