TEHRAN — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday he is ready to take the risk of being the first Iranian astronaut as part of Iran’s goal of a manned space flight.
‘‘I’m ready to be the first Iranian to sacrifice myself for our country’s scientists,’’ the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying in an address to space scientists in Tehran.
Anousheh Ansari was the first Iranian to make a journey into space aboard a Soyuz TMA-9 capsule from Baikonur, Kazakhastan, in September 2006. The 40-year-old telecommunications entrepreneur paid a reported $20 million for a visit to the International Space Station. Her journey as a space tourist became an inspiration to women in male-dominated Iran.
Iran sent a monkey into space last Monday, describing the launch a successful step toward its plan to launch an astronaut within the next five to six years. The monkey named ‘‘Pishgam,’’ which means pioneer in Farsi, safely returned to earth.
Ahmadinejad’s statement came as Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, issued a facetious Twitter message comparing Ahmadinejad to a monkey. The comment was criticized as racist by fellow GOP lawmaker, Representative Justin Amash of Michigan.
On Monday, McCain wrote, ‘‘So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space — wasn’t he just there last week?’’ He then linked to a news story about Iran launching a monkey into space.
Faced with criticism, McCain said in another tweet, ‘‘lighten up folks, can’t everyone take a joke.’’
That didn’t satisfy Amash, who replied, ‘‘Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes.’’