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TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian officials say that they successfully launched a monkey into space and returned it safely to Earth on Monday in an apparent move paving the way to manned space flight.

According to AFP, the monkey was launched on Monday to an altitude of 75 miles in the suborbital flight.

“This success is the first step towards man conquering the space and it paves the way for other moves,” Iran Defense Minister General Ahmad Vahidi told state television. Iranian state television showed still pictures of the monkey – whose name, if it has one, was not released – being fitted into a flight suit and then loaded into a chair that resembles a child’s car seat.

There has not been any independent verification of the launch, the UK Guardian reports.

A previous attempt by Iran to put a monkey in space in 2011 failed without explanation. The Islamic nation has said that it intends to put a human in space by 2020. Iran had previously launched a rat, turtles and worms into space.

Western nations, including the U.S., have criticized the Iranian space program, noting that the same technology that can launch rockets into space can also be used in ballistic missiles.