Iranian-Born American Entrepreneur Is Set To Become First Female Space Tourist
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STAR CITY, Russia — Like millions of children, Anousheh Ansari dreamed and wondered about the stars. Next month, the Iranian-born American entrepreneur can get a closer look, as she rides a Russian capsule to the international space station and becomes the first female space tourist.
The most exciting moment in her voyage will likely come when she first sees Earth “as a blue, glowing globe against the dark background of the cosmos,” Mrs. Ansari, 39, told a news conference yesterday at the Russian cosmonaut training center outside Moscow.
Mrs.Ansari is scheduled to ride to the station aboard a Soyuz TMA-9 capsule, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Spanish-born American astronaut Miguel Lopez-Alegria. She will spend 10 days before returning to Earth with its current crew, Pavel Vinogradov, and Jeff Williams, who have been on board since April 1.
The Soyuz launch is scheduled for September 14, but it could be delayed four days if a launch of the American space shuttle Atlantis interferes. That would happen if the shuttle takes off for the station anytime between September 6–8, which is likely, the head of RKK Energiya, Russia’s leading space company, Nikolai Sevastyanov, said. Whatever the date, the trip promises a dream come true for Mrs. Ansari, who said space was “in my heart and in my soul.”
“I always used to gaze at the stars and wonder what’s out there in the universe and wonder if there are others like me pondering the same questions somewhere else out there,” she said. “I hope this flight brings me one step closer and helps me realize what’s out there.”
Mrs. Ansari, who with her husband cofounded the Texas-based company Telecom Technologies, Inc., is following in the path of space tourists Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth, and Greg Olsen, who also traveled to the international space station aboard Russian capsules.
Mrs. Ansari’s contract bars her from disclosing the trip’s cost, but she noted previous space tourists have paid some $20 million.
Another of her companies, Prodea Systems Inc., is sponsoring her trip. Prodea has been involved in space adventures before, helping to fund a competition with a $10-million prize for the first privately financed manned spacecraft to make a suborbital flight. That contest, called the “X Prize,” was won in 2004 by a vehicle called SpaceShipOne.
Dressed in civilian clothes, Mrs. Ansari said she wore shoulder patches with the American flag and a flag with Iranian colors at a recent appearance because “both countries had something to do with the person I am today.” Mrs. Ansari moved to America when she was 16.
“I feel very close to the Iranian people and the culture of the country,” she said.
Her trip has gotten limited attention in her homeland. An Iranian astronomy magazine — “Nojoom,” Farsi for “Stars” — had an article about her in August, saying it was a point of pride to have an Iranian going into space. But the trip has not been mentioned in state-run press, possibly because of her American citizenship.