After Iran released news that it had successfully launched and recovered a monkey from space, some have begun to question whether the launch went as well as reported — and whether the monkey actually made it out. Earlier today, France24 andThe Independent both noticed that while the monkey seen in press shots had a prominent mole over one eye, there was no sign of it when the animal appeared later at a press conference. Iran also hasn't released shots of the craft itself after landing, a sharp contrast with the photos released from before the event. The above image from The Independent shows an official shot of the monkey before space on the left, and a similar shot from afterwards on the right.
Since news of the launch was reported firsthand only through official Iranian outlets, it was never a sure thing — while people didn't necessarily doubt the story, it was always speculative to some point. Now, though, the images point to a few different possibilities. The most innocuous is that the marking somehow didn't show up well on lower-resolution photos shown after the event, or that it was removed at some point. But if these were indeed different animals, that could mean that the monkey actually died during the journey, or even that the rocket malfunctioned and didn't launch or return correctly. And if that's true, it could be a boon to countries worried an Iranian space program would threaten national security... or raise fears that something less innocuous was being tested.