Anousheh Ansari is an engineer, an entrepreneur, a founding-member of several tech companies, and if that’s not impressive enough, she’s also an astronaut.
But she’s not just any astronaut, she’s the first Iranian to venture to space, the first female private space explorer, and the fourth self-funded person to go to space.
Going to space has been a childhood dream for Anousheh.
“I went to school and fell in love with the night stars in Tehran. Growing up I always wanted to be an astronaut.”
When she was 16 she moved to the U.S. and studied engineering. Later, she started Telecom Technologies Inc., which provided network solutions to telecommunications companies.
When she sold the company in 2000, she became involved with the XPRIZE foundation.
“When we sold our company, that was the first time I had opportunity to find out how I could become more active in [space exploration]. Our family engagement with the XPRIZE foundation was our first step and endeavor into getting engaged with the space community,” she said.
Anousheh and her family helped sponsor the Ansari XPRIZE, of $10 million, to encourage private companies to develop reusable spacecrafts that would fly to the edge of space. 26 teams from 11 countries signed up. The winning spacecraft was SpaceShipOne, which became the model Virgin Galactic is based on.
Following the success of the Ansari XPRIZE, she began research for the next competition. But this time, it would be an orbital flight XPRIZE.
She signed up as a back-up astronaut with Space Adventures in Russia, an independent space exploration company to learn more about space flight. Three weeks before she was to leave back home, one of the primary astronauts developed an illness and couldn’t go. She was asked to fill-in for him.
“So as I was packing my bags to go back home and they told me if you want to go to space you can actually take the mission and go to space. It was one of those moments I said, oh my God, I’m so lucky to have said yes and come and train as a back- up because now I have my chance.”
At the International Space Station, Anousheh became the first astronaut to blog from space. Her blog received a lot of attention as she documented what it was like to live in space and do simple tasks like brushing her teeth and hair.
Anousheh described this experience as “one of the most magical moments of my life.”
As an Iranian woman, she hopes her story will inspire other women of the Middle East to empower themselves and not let society, friends or family hold them back from doing whatever it is they want to do.
“There’s nothing that they’re not supposed to do or cannot do. They just need to want it bad enough, and go after it.”