A new venture for entrepreneur
Texan to be first female tourist sent into space
Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-born Texas entrepreneur, tried on her spacesuit in a factory outside Moscow in July. (Sergei Remezov/ Reuters)
DALLAS -- Since long before leaving her native Iran as a teenager in 1984, Anousheh Ansari stared at the stars and dreamed of traveling closer to them.
Now at age 40, after an improbable journey that has included learning a new language, earning an engineering degree, and starting a telecommunications company that made her rich, the Dallas businesswoman will become the first female space tourist the Soyuz spacecraft lifts off tomorrow.
``I've always been fascinated with space and always wondered about the mysteries of space and wanted to be able to experience it firsthand," Ansari said in a telephone interview from the launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
She says she is eager to see Iran from space -- she hasn't been back since immigrating to the United States -- and hopes to inspire girls in her homeland to study science. Ansari says she has received e-mail messages from many of them, although her flight has received scant attention in Iran. She is, after all, an American citizen.
Ansari and her family left Iran a few years after the Islamic revolution, in part because the opportunities for a young girl to study science were limited there.
Her space ride will cost about $20 million. Ansari can afford it because she and her husband sold their company in 2000 for about $550 million in stock from the acquiring company.
The extent of the couple's wealth is not entirely clear, because the stock fell in value. That led shareholders of the takeover company to sue Anousheh Ansari and several others for alleged insider trading. The case is pending in federal court in Massachusetts.
This isn't the first time she has dipped into her personal fortune to spend on space.
In 2002, she helped pay a $10 million award for the first successful privately financed manned trip into space. SpaceShipOne, backed by
Ansari hopes both the X Prize and her trip to the international space station will foster more interest in space travel and lower prices if she helps spur more private companies to join the space-tourism race.
Her husband, Hamid, said she believes space travel will be critical one day, when humans deplete the Earth's resources and need to colonize space.
In March, she and her husband and a space travel broker who works with the Russian space agency went to Kazakhstan. From the VIP section, they watched the launch of a Soyuz rocket.
``Watching that million-pound ball of fire lifting into space, we grabbed each other's arms," said the broker, Eric Anderson of Space Adventures Ltd.
``Seeing the emotion on her face, I could tell she was going to go."