For One Mason Family, the Sky Is Not the Limit

Posted: January 10, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

The Dallas Morning News called the Ansari family of Plano, Tex., “consummate risk-takers” when the newspaper nominated the family for the Texan of the Year honor in December. “They’ve used their good fortune in business to inspire and underwrite the dreams of other visionaries,” the newspaper said.

Three years ago, the Ansaris—brothers Amir and Hamid and Hamid’s wife, Anousheh—put up a few million dollars to keep a dream alive. The dream of the Ansari X Prize Foundation was to award $10 million to any civilian business that could send an astronaut into space and bring him or her back safely. In October, SpaceShipOne and its mother ship, White Knight, did just that over the Mojave Desert.

“It is difficult to describe,” said Amir Ansari, who graduated from Mason in 1990 with a BS in Computer and Electrical Engineering. He told reporters, “You could see the contrail headed almost straight up, all the way to 69 miles high. Thousands of people were screaming and crying and chanting, ‘Go, go, go.’ You could sense history was being made.”

Anousheh Ansari, Amir’s sister-in-law, has always had her eyes on the stars. She couldn’t speak English when she immigrated to the United States in 1984 at the age of 16, but she hoped that living here would help her realize her dream of becoming an astronaut. She enrolled at Mason, where she met Amir and his brother, Hamid, whom she married in 1991.

In 1993, Anousheh Ansari convinced the brothers to quit their jobs, cash out their stock, and start their own telecommunications company. By 1996, their company, Telecom Technologies Inc., was the fifth fastest growing technology company in Dallas. By 1999, Ernst and Young had recognized Anousheh Ansari as Entrepreneur of the Year. A year later, Working Woman magazine did the same. Eight years and three U.S. patents later, the Ansaris sold the company for $750 million.

The Ansaris are still keeping busy. They’ve started a venture capital firm called Prodea based in Richardson, Tex., and they haven’t given up their dream of space travel. Their contribution to the Ansari X Prize guarantees them seats on one of the first 10 commercial space flights.

Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic has already contracted with Mojave Aerospace Ventures, makers of SpaceShipOne, for a SpaceShipTwo. Virgin Galactic hopes to begin offering flights in 2008 with a fare of about $200,000 per passenger.

For more information on the Ansari X Prize, check out the web site at www.xprize.org.

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