First Female Space Tourist Details Her Flight

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Private space tourism took an important step last month when the first female space tourist took flight. Her name is Anousheh Ansari, and she returned from her trip two weeks ago. Ansari is a Iranian-American businesswoman who immigrated to the United States when she was a child.


Private space tourism isn't a completely novel concept. It's been around for a few years now. But it wasn't until last month that the first female space tourist took off. Her name is Anousheh Ansari, and she's just returned from her space flight. She's a businesswoman and an Iranian-American who immigrated to the United States in her teens. Anousheh paid millions to spend 10 days in space, and has become an inspiration to many women in Iran and in the United States.

If you have a question for her about her experience, what she saw, or what training was like, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is Anousheh Ansari is the chairman and co-founder of Prodea Systems, a digital home and multi-media management technologies company, and she joins us now by phone from Star City in Moscow. It's great to have you on the program today.

Ms. ANOUSHEH ANSARI (First Female Space Tourist; Chairman and Co-founder, Prodea Systems): It's great to be here with you.

CONAN: What was it like in space?

Ms. ANSARI: It was an amazing feeling. It was wonderful. I expected it to be a spiritual experience, and when I actually were able to fly to space, I found it to be that and also a lot more. The freedom of being able to float around and be able to see the Earth as a beautiful planet, it's a very unique experience.

CONAN: Was that spiritual moment, was that your primary motivation for doing this?

Ms. ANSARI: No, I had several motivations. First of all, it was a childhood dream for me. I always wanted to feel how it is to be in space, and I - the mystery of space always had drawn me to it. I always watched the stars and wondered if there are other life forms out there pondering the same type of questions. And so it was a dream that I've carried in my heart for a long time, and I was able to finally fulfill it. At the same time, I always believed that being able to see Earth from space would give you a unique experience and would give you a different point of view on life and the way you live your life. And I found that to be true as well.

CONAN: I've spoken with other people who have gone into space before, and they say that the moment when acceleration ceases and suddenly you are weightless, that is an unsurpassed moment.

Ms. ANSARI: I would agree with all of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ANSARI: I was on the Soyuz, on top of the rockets, so we felt about two-and-a-half (unintelligible), which is two-and-a-half times the gravity on there, going up. And after about 10, 12 minutes, we were in weightlessness. And some kind of a joy filled my heart, and I started laughing and giggling, and one of the astronauts on the flight took his glove off and let it float around, and just watching his glove going around the different parts of capsule, it was like I was a kid.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is David. David's calling us form Ironwood in Michigan.

DAVID (Caller): Yes. I was just curious. What age did you first think about going to space, and what do you think of science?

CONAN: Anousheh Ansari?

DAVID: And what do you actually think of science?

CONAN: Yes - no, I heard you. Go ahead, Anousheh.

Ms. ANSARI: I don't know exactly what age I was. I think probably about 5 years old. I remember I was very young. And about science of space, I think space exploration, space sciences, are very important for future of humanity. I believe if we think that we can only live based on resources available on Earth, that it's a very naive point of view. And we should think of the future of our children's children and the generation beyond them and find ways for those generations to have access to space resources - and as well to be able to travel beyond our borders, our Earthly borders, and be able to find other homes for themselves if life on Earth should be in danger.

CONAN: David, thanks very much for the call. I wonder, if you were 5 years old, that was when you were still living in Iran. And I know that in that part of the world, certainly during the summertime when it's hot, families tend to sleep up on the roofs of their houses. Did you do that as a small child and look at the stars?

Ms. ANSARI: Exactly - not quite on the roof, but I was sleeping on this large balcony, and it was the best time for me to be able to watch the stars and be able to see all those twinkling points in the sky.

CONAN: We're speaking with Anousheh Ansari, chairman and co-founder of Prodea Systems, and the first female space tourist. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another caller on the line. This is Tom. Tom's calling us from Clackamas in Oregon.

TOM (Caller): (Unintelligible) to Anousheh, congratulations for her trip.

Ms. ANSARI: Merci.

TOM: I managed to actually talk to her when she was on her trip, via amateur radio. I'm just wondering if she felt like she was made part of the crew or just kind of had to do what she could do to spend the time?

Ms. ANSARI: I was very fortunate. The crew was wonderful and really made me feel part of the crew. I was conducting some experiments and some projects with the European Space Agency, and they helped me throughout those procedures and were very supportive. They really made me feel that I was an astronaut conducting scientific experiments for the eight days that I was in the (unintelligible).

CONAN: I know that you prefer to call yourself a space explorer rather than a space tourist. What's the difference to you?

Ms. ANSARI: To me, a tourist is someone who decides to go to someplace and takes their camera, buys the ticket and, you know, there they go. For me, I trained about six months in Star City and learned about all the equipment and systems on the capsule, as well as in the station. And if I were to compare it with anything, I would say people who go on expeditions to Antarctica or people who climb Mount Everest, you would never call them tourists. So if anything, you can at least compare it to people who go on expeditions.

CONAN: But I hope you took a camera with you.

Ms. ANSARI: I definitely did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay. Tom, thanks very much for the call.

TOM: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go now to - this will be Pete. Pete's calling us from Charlotte in North Carolina.

PETE (Caller): Yes. I was wondering how the view was of Earth, and how did that and the trip compare to your expectations?

Ms. ANSARI: The views of Earth were magnificent. And the day view is a beautiful blue globe rotating in a dark background. And you see a lot of pictures, but seeing it for yourself, it sort of has a different sense. You feel the life on Earth, and you see it without any borders, any problems, any -none of these issues you hear in the news every day. And it gives you sort of a peaceful feeling, just watching the Earth sort of rotate beneath you.

And the nighttime is also beautiful. You don't see the ground precisely, but you have a background of stars behind sort of a dark, velvety globe that's rotating there. And then if there's a thunderstorm, you see these lightning shows going around in different locations. So it's beautiful day and night.

CONAN: Pete, thanks very much.

PETE: Well, congratulations on fulfilling your dream.

Ms. ANSARI: Thank you very much.

CONAN: And let's talk now with - I hope I'm pronouncing this correctly -Milou(ph), calling us from San Francisco.

MILOU (Caller): Hi, am I on?

CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

MILOU: Hi, how are you?

CONAN: Fine.

MILOU: I certainly admire Anousheh's courage in going into space. I think it's, you know, it's a huge thing to do. I was wondering if you've ever been asked if you feel guilty or if you think it was a selfish thing to use so much money and go up into space, where - I'm also from Iran, and so many women, especially, in Iran could've been helped by, you know, half of the money that was spent to, you know, have you go into space as a civilian.

Ms. ANSARI: I mean, I had this question asked on the blog several times, and I wrote a piece on it, actually, called The Price of a Dream. For me, I don't attack the problems on the surface. I have to find out what's the cause. If I decide that there is a problem in Iran involved with women, I have to find out what caused the problem. Throwing money at a problem necessarily doesn't solve the problems, usually. People ask me - there are lots of people who are hungry in the world, and why didn't I use my money to feed them?

And to me, I need to find out why those people are hungry. I know there's a lot of food that goes to Africa and other locations where hunger exists, but the corrupt governments don't let the food get to those people. So by me sending money over, I'm not solving any problems. I'm just exacerbating the problem.

CONAN: I know you mentioned your blog as well. You heard from a lot of Iranian girls who wrote to you.

Ms. ANSARI: Yes, and most of the messages were so positive. I gave them something intangible. It was an inspiration. It was a ray of hope in a time that everything that's here is basically bad news - news of war, nothing that would give them hope of the future. And I think you can't put a price on, you know, what they got out of this trip. And I'm happy to be able to, in a small part, help give them hope.

CONAN: Milou, thanks very much for the question. Anousheh Ansari, thank you very much for being with us, and congratulations on the completion of your trip.

Ms. ANSARI: Thank you.

CONAN: Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, chairman and co-founder of Prodea Systems. She joined us by phone from Star City in Russia. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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