Iran is sticking by its claims of launching a monkey into space and recovering it alive — despite broadcasting images of two different monkeys before and after launch last week.

Doubts about the monkey’s survival surfaced after journalists noticed pre-launch monkey pictures showed an animal with a distinctive mole over its right eye, which the post-flight monkey did not have. It also had darker fur.

ANALYSIS: Iran’s Monkey Launch: Should We Worry?

Iran now says the monkey in the first picture actually was one of five that trained for the mission but did not fly. It says the image was mistakenly used by Iran’s Press TV on Monday in a report about the suborbital flight The TV station showed a different monkey on Tuesday.

In an interview with Associated Press, Iranian space agency official Mohammad Ebrahimi said the second monkey made the flight and made it back alive. The agency, however, apparently declined to disprove rumors of the monkey’s demise by showing both of the animals to the reporter, The New York Times reports.

Iran claims its space launch is steppingstone toward an eventual human space program, one which already has its first astronaut volunteer. Iran media reported on Monday that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he was ready to be the country’s first astronaut.

Actually, Ahmadinejah wouldn’t be the first from Iran in space. Entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari flew to the International Space Station in 2006. The Iranian-born Ansari, now living in Texas, also was the first woman to become a space tourist.

Image credit: Iran state television