Anousheh Ansari
Misha Japaridze  /  AP
Iranian-born U.S. entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari flashes a smile during a news briefing at Russia's Star City cosmonaut training complex on Wednesday. Ansari is due to become the first woman to pay her own way on a flight to the international space station.
updated 8/30/2006 6:53:51 PM ET 2006-08-30T22:53:51

Like millions of children, Anousheh Ansari dreamed and wondered about the stars. Next month the Iranian-born U.S. entrepreneur can get a closer look, as she rides a Russian capsule to the international space station and becomes the first female to pay her own way into space.

The most exciting moment in her voyage will likely come when she first sees Earth “as a blue, glowing globe against the dark background of the cosmos,” Ansari, 39, told a news conference Wednesday at the Russian cosmonaut training center outside Moscow.

Ansari is scheduled to ride to the station aboard a Soyuz TMA-9 capsule, along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Spanish-born U.S. astronaut Miguel Lopez-Alegria. She will spend 10 days before returning to Earth with its current crew, Pavel Vinogradov and Jeff Williams, who have been on board since April 1.

The Soyuz launch is scheduled for Sept. 14, but it could be delayed four days if a launch of the space shuttle Atlantis interferes. That would happen if the shuttle takes off for the station anytime from Sept. 6-8, which is likely, said Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of state-controlled RKK Energia, Russia’s leading space company.

Dream come true
Whatever the date, the trip promises a dream come true for Ansari, who said space was “in my heart and in my soul.”

“I always used to gaze at the stars and wonder what’s out there in the universe, and wonder if there are others like me pondering the same questions somewhere else out there,” she said. “I hope this flight brings me one step closer and helps me realize what’s out there.”

Ansari, who with her husband co-founded the Texas-based company Telecom Technologies, Inc., is following in the path of space passengers Dennis Tito , Mark Shuttleworth and Greg Olsen , who also traveled to the international space station aboard Russian capsules.

Ansari’s contract bars her from revealing the trip’s cost, but she noted that previous space tourists have paid in the neighborhood of $20 million.

Another of her companies, Prodea Systems Inc., is sponsoring her trip. Ansari and her family have been involved in space adventures before, helping to fund a competition with a $10 million prize for the first privately financed manned spacecraft to make a suborbital flight. That contest, called the Ansari X Prize, was won in 2004 by the SpaceShipOne rocket plane.

Iranian connection
Dressed in civilian clothes, Ansari said she wore shoulder patches with the U.S. flag and a flag with Iranian colors at a recent appearance because “both countries had something to do with the person I am today.” Ansari moved to the United States when she was 16.

Slideshow: Month in space: Future frontiers “I feel very close to the Iranian people and the culture of the country,” she said.

Her trip has gotten limited attention in her homeland. An Iranian astronomy magazine — “Nojoom,” Farsi for “Stars” — had an article about her in August, saying it was a point of pride to have an Iranian going into space. But the trip has not been mentioned in state-run media, possibly because of her American citizenship.

Ansari said she hoped her voyage and her life would inspire young people worldwide, “especially women and girls.”

Once at the station, Ansari said, she will shoot films demonstrating the laws of physics to be used at schools, and in efforts to promote interest in science and technology. She also will conduct experiments on microbial growth in zero-gravity, and on lower back pain experienced during spaceflight, she said.

Tyurin, the Russian commander of the Soyuz crew, will take a swing at a golf ball during a spacewalk in a publicity stunt to promote a Canadian golf club manufacturer. He suggested the brief golf outing would be like a day away from the office, saying spacewalks “as a rule are linked with the need to perform hard and crucial work.”

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