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Anousheh Ansari: an Iranian woman’s space odyssey

(AFP) / 18 September 2006

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan - Anousheh Ansari spent her childhood in Iran dreaming of space. Now, after years of hard work and study in the United States, she has realised her dreams and blasted into orbit on a Soyuz rocket.

Anousheh AnsariAnsari took off with NASA’s Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russia’s Mikhail Tyurin from the Russian cosmodrome of Baikonur in Kazakhstan to become the first female space tourist.

She is thought to have paid about 25 million dollars (20 million euros) for the flight, which will last about 10 days and include a stay aboard the International Space Station.

“Ever since I can remember it has been in my soul and in my heart. I’ve always been interested and fascinated by space,” Ansari earlier.

But it is her grounding in business and science and her iron resolve that have made the dream a reality.

Born in 1966 in Iran, Ansari left the country with her parents at the age of 16 shortly after the Islamic revolution. Arriving in the United States speaking only Farsi and French, Ansari nevertheless managed to launch herself into the study of electronics and data processing.

She has taken US citizenship, has received degrees from George Mason University in Virginia and George Washington University in the US capital and has filed patents in the field of telecommunications.

“She is a very determined, resolute woman,” said Eric Anderson, chairman of Space Adventures, the company that markets the flights, in a telephone interview with AFP.

In 1993 Ansari convinced her husband to leave the company where they worked to set out on their own. Their telecommunications startup grew to employ 250 people before Ansari sold it in 2000.

Her family has gone on to invest not only in technology, but also in space exploration. The family contributed 10 million dollars to the X Foundation, set up to encourage advances in human space flight.

The money formed a prize, the Ansari X Prize, which in 2004 was awarded to Mojave Aerospace Ventures for launching a reusable space ship that reached space twice in two weeks.

If that is not enough to convince space enthusiasts of her credentials, she is also studying for a diploma in astronomy.

“I hope that not only my flights, but the life I have lived so far, become an inspiration for all youth all over the world, especially women and girls around the world to pursue their dreams,” said Ansari.

“It may seem very hard... but looking at my background they can see that sometimes the impossible can be possible and dreams can come true.”

And although her life now is a far cry from her origins in Iran, Ansari says she has not forgotten her birthplace, widely known for its hostility to the United States.

Earlier this year, she sported the flags of both Iran and the United States on her spacesuit.

“I felt that by wearing the two badges I can demonstrate that both countries had something to do with making me the person who I am today,” she said at Star City.



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