A Passion for Space Travel
Anousheh Ansari spent her childhood in Iran dreaming of venturing into space. On Monday, that dream came close to fulfilment when the businesswomen with American citizenship boarded a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The telecommunications tycoon from Texas, became the fourth person - and first woman - to pay an estimated $20m to travel into space.
She blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, part of a crew-exchange flight to the International Space Station. Her journey will last for 10 days and will include a two-day trip to the International Space Station.
The Star Trek fan, who spent her early childhood in pre-revolutionary Iran, has spoken of the nights on the balcony gazing at the stars and a longing to become an astronaut. Three decades on, she now describes herself as an "ambassador" for commercial space travel.
Ansari is the first space tourist to have passionately pursued the development of private space flight, using her grounding in business and science to do this. After emigrating to the United States in her teens, she went on to earn a bachelor's degree in electronics and computer engineering from George Mason University.
A master's degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University followed before she joined American company MCI. In 1993, Ansari set up a telecommunications company with her husband Hamid. This was eventually sold for hundreds of millions of dollars and part of the fortune went into funding Ansari's interest in the space industry.
In 2002, her family contributed $10m dollars to the X Foundation, set up to encourage advances in human space flight. The money formed a prize, the Ansari X Prize - a race to be the first private company to put a craft into space twice in two weeks.
The competition was won by aircraft designer Burt Rutan in 2004 with his SpaceShipOne. When he later announced that he was joining with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic Company to make a larger version for commercial suborbital flights by 2008, Mrs Ansari immediately reserved her seat.
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
She has also been involved in a family venture called Prodea, which is developing a line of air-launched suborbital vehicles in partnership with Virginia-based Space Adventures, as well as spaceports in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore to launch them.
Ansari was one of only two women to be featured in a Fortune magazine list of America's 40 most successful business figures under the age of 40. She was described as "the boldest newcomer". Ansari has been wearing both the American and Iranian flags on her space suit in training. She says she wanted to recognise both countries' contributions to her life.
''I was born in Iran and lived there until the age of 16 and then moved to the United States,'' she said in an interview recently. ''So I have a lot of roots in Iran and feel very close to the Iranian people and the culture of the country.''
Her trip has received limited attention in Iran, although a few days before she was scheduled to blast into space, an Iranian TV channel aired a 70-minute interview with her.
Ansari becomes the fourth tourist to visit the ISS after Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth and Greg Olsen. Her Soyuz craft was launched to the ISS from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on Monday 18 September. Ahead of her lift-off, Ansari said she was an ambassador for attracting private investment into space programmes. Her family sponsored the X-Prize, which honoured the first private vehicle to make it into space.
The space explorers brought back snails, worms and barley grown during experiments aboard the ISS. The Soyuz capsule also carried fellow US astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov. It landed in the 56-mile (90km) predicted zone.
The craft slowed its descent by firing rockets and opening parachutes until it landed softly on its side in a field.
A dozen helicopter rescue teams rushed over to help the astronauts out. Ansari was given a bunch of red roses by an official as well as a kiss from her husband, Hamid. All three astronauts were carried on reclining chairs to waiting helicopters. From Kustanai, Kazakhstan, they were to fly to a training centre outside Moscow.
The 40-year-old Iranian-born US businesswoman smiled weakly as she exited the Russian capsule. "They brought me home safe and sound," she said.
Compiled from bbcnews.com
(R) thedailystar.net 2006