Washington – When Iranian-born American Anousheh Ansari blasted into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on September 18 aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, she accomplished more than fulfilling a childhood dream: She made the history books.
Ansari, who is on an eight-day visit to the International Space Station (ISS), became the first Muslim woman and first Iranian in space as well as the first private female space tourist. The launch was six days after her 40th birthday.
Accompanying her on the mission are Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, a Spanish-born American, and Russian flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin, who will spend six months in orbit as the station's 14th permanent crew. The three arrived at the space station early on September 20. (See related article.)
Ansari, a telecommunications entrepreneur, is scheduled to return to Earth September 28 with two outgoing Expedition 13 crew members -- commander Pavel Vinogradov, a Russian cosmonaut, and science officer Jeff Williams, a NASA astronaut. Another current ISS crew member, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut and flight engineer Thomas Reiter, is scheduled to stay aboard the station until December.
Ansari is flying under contract with Roskosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, according to a NASA press release. Her flight was arranged through Space Adventures, Ltd., a company based in Arlington, Virginia. It has organized spaceflights for three other private space explorers, all men.
To afford her some privacy on the space station, she has been assigned a separate sleeping space in the station’s docking module.
"Anousheh is a true space ambassador and is dedicated to using her experience to educate as many people as possible. During her stay, she will perform four scientific experiments for the ESA examining causes of anemia and back pain that affect astronauts in zero gravity, as well as investigating the effects of space radiation and bacteria on the health of space crews.
In addition, she has launched a space blog where she will answer questions from around the world.
“The launch was very smooth. The trip to the station felt long but it was worth it. I cannot keep my eyes off the windows. Earth is magnificent and peaceful from up here,” said Ansari on her September 20 blog entry.
“The Earth is so beautiful and if we could all see it this way I’m sure we would do everything in our power to preserve it. I truly hope that more and more people get to experience this trip first hand,” she said.
To prepare for her spaceflight, Ansari completed a cosmonaut-training program at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center located in Star City, Russia.
Ansari immigrated to the United States in 1984 at the age of 16 knowing only a few words of English and became a successful telecommunications entrepreneur. She is co-founder and chairman of Prodea Systems Inc., a consumer technology company headquartered in Texas. In 2004, the Ansari family made a multimillion dollar contribution to the X-Prize Foundation, which offered a $10 million prize to the first nongovernment organization that could launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within a two-week period.
According to the foundation’s Web site, 26 teams from seven different nations competed for the multimillion dollar prize. On October 4, 2004, the X Prize Foundation awarded the prize to Mojave Aerospace Ventures for the flight of the experimental space plane SpaceShipOne.
In addition to space flight, Ansari has an interest in social entrepreneurship. She has served on the boards of directors for the Make-a-Wish Foundation of North Texas and works with a number of other nonprofit organizations, including the Ashoka Foundation in its support of social entrepreneurs.
In a related story, the U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis landed safely in Florida on September 21 bringing to a successful end its 11-day mission to resume construction of the ISS. (See article.)