Engineering Alumna Realizes Her Lifelong Dream of Space Travel

Posted: September 18, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Anousheh Ansari, BS Computer and Electrical Engineering ’89, has always had her eyes on the stars. As a young girl, she dreamed of becoming an astronaut. On Sept. 2, she took another step closer to the realization of that dream when she entered quarantine in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, in preparation for today’s launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Today, she will begin her trip to the International Space Station as a part of the three-member Soyuz TMA-9 crew.

With this trip, Ansari takes her place in history as the first female “tourist” in space. But the use of the word “tourist” is a little misleading. Despite the vacation-like sound of her status, Ansari has been in training for the flight for several months and needed to be certified for flight before being officially named to the crew.

Anousheh ansari in space suit
Anousheh Ansari is about to realize her lifelong dream of going into space.

She will be traveling for 10 days with NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin. During her time at the space station, Ansari also will be conducting a number of experiments for the European Space Agency.

Ansari couldn’t speak English when she immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1984 at the age of 16, but she hoped that living in the United States would help her realize her dream of becoming an astronaut. She enrolled at Mason, where she met Hamid Ansari, whom she would marry in 1991, and his brother Amir.

In 1993, she convinced the Ansari 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.

Today, at the age of 40 and as chairwoman and cofounder of Prodea Systems Inc., a revolutionary digital home technology company that is sponsoring her efforts, Ansari is finally making that journey into space and is eager to share her experiences as part of this mission with others. In particular, she hopes to educate children on the importance of space travel. To this end, she has started a blog that she hopes to maintain throughout the trip.

In her first post, she reminisced about her girlhood in Tehran: “You could see so many stars in the night skies.” In Tehran in the summer, her family would set up beds outdoors on the balcony, and she would lie in her bed and “look deep into the mysterious darkness of the universe” and wonder what was out there.

“By reaching this dream I’ve had since childhood, I hope to tangibly demonstrate to young people all over the world that there is no limit to what they can accomplish.”

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