As of last week, The Islamic Republic of Iran has officially joined the elite club of Spacefaring Countries. Iran has actually been claiming to have been a spacefaring power since early 2008, when they allegedly launched their first statellite.
I say "Claiming" and "Allegedly" because pretty much every international observer outside of the Iranian News Agencies contests this claim. While Iran has been developing their own orbital launchers for quite some time, and while the did, unquestionably, launch an orbtial launcher last year, it appears to have suffered a catastrophic failure shortly after liftoff, and crashed somewhere to the east. Details vary as to exactly where the wreckage landed - Afghanistan, Pakistan, China? Probably not India, though that would be a logical flight path since if something had whacked in to anyplace in India, we would have heard about it by now.
In any event, based on their history of lying to save face, I decided to hold off on announcing the Iranians had actually "Joined the Club" until we had some kind of confirmation, and here it is:
Astronautix.Com has a concise overview on the Iranian space program here
and some good information on the Shahab launch vehicle they used here
To date there have only been thirteen nations that were ever in the Spacefaring club, and several of them are no longer active. The Soviet Union/Russia (1957), the United States (1958), France (1965), Italy and Australia (Both in 1967), Japan and China (Both 1970), England (1971), the European Space Agency (1979), India (1980), Israel (1988), the Ukraine (1999), and now Iran. Of these countries, England and Australia both abandoned their spaceflight capability in 1977, and Italy likewise abandoned it in 1988. The ESA isn't a country, Obviously, but since they've got independent launch capability they still make the list. So of the 13 countries that have ever put anything in to space, only 10 are still at it.
There have only ever been three *manned* spacefaring powers - The Soviet Union/Russia and the United States (both in 1961), and China in 2003.
Though lots of other countries have expressed an interest in spaceflight, or manned spaceflight, no one else has ever really showed up for the party.I 'd probably be really impressed that they had the force of will to do such a thing, were they not our avowed enemies, and had not the news been full of "30th Anniversiary of the Revolution" ceremonies in Iran last night. So I'm not impressed, I'm just kind of disturbed and don't know what to think. Fortunately, their technology is old-fashioned and unreliable enough not to present any kind of credible threat to the US, or our space program