Space Tourist Launches Into Book
SCOTT SIMON, host:
When Anousheh Ansari was a little girl in Tehran, she used to sleep on her family's balcony and look up at the stars twinkling over Mt. Damavand. Her family was having tough times. Her parents marriage was breaking up while Irans clerical revolution had closed her school, seemingly ending her dreams of becoming a scientist. The stars are Anousheh Ansaris refuge. She and her family were able to get out of Iran. They came to the United States. She studied electrical engineering and computer science. She and her husband, Hamid, reconditioned and sold used cars. But eventually they founded a telecom company that made them a fortune. In 2006, Anousheh Ansari bought a ticket to the stars. She got a seat on a Soyuz mission and became the first self-funded woman to fly on the International Space Station, the first Moslem woman in outer space. Shes written a new book with the assistance of Homer Hickam - My Dream of Stars: From Daughter of Iran to Space Pioneer.
Anousheh Ansari joins us from member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Nice to meet you, Cosmonaut Ansari.
Ms. ANOUSHEH ANSARI (Author): Very nice meeting you.
SIMON: You dont like that term, space tourist, right?
Ms. ANSARI: I don't like it because it makes it feel, it trivializes the training that you go through and everything that you do in order to be able to qualify to take this trip to the space station. You go through the same training as the astronauts. So I don't think it's a fair terminology to be used.
SIMON: And you turned out to have some unique qualifications. For example, they had never seen anybody able to withstand punishment in the centrifuge as well as you.
Ms. ANSARI: I guess so. It felt like, you know, they were trying to determine if they can send me without wasting too much time on getting me into the program. And I was determined that I'm not, you know, failing any of the tests and I was there to stay. So they did their best and I did mine and I conquered.
SIMON: We should explain the centrifuge. That's where they spin you around and makes almost everybody throw up with no shame, right?
Ms. ANSARI: Yes, that's part of it. You know, you throw up or you pass out. It depends what type of tests they're running on you.
SIMON: Yeah. I often do the same thing here without nearly as the same amount of provocation.
You grew up watching "Star Trek" in Farsi, I guess.
Ms. ANSARI: Yes.
SIMON: Nice section in the book, you describe being a bit giddy on seeing William Shatner for the first time. What do you think so fascinated you from an early age about space?
Ms. ANSARI: I think it started out, as you mentioned, I always loved watching the stars at night. And I mean, I was looking out there into infinity and trying to think where we come from, you know, what am I doing here, why am I here, what's the purpose of this world? All these possibilities always fascinated me.
And that's what actually interested me in science and trying to learn more about the stars and space. And the more I learned about it, the more I enjoyed it and the more fascinated I was with it.
SIMON: Can you say be well and prosper in Farsi?
Ms. ANSARI: I have to think for a second.
SIMON: All right. Sorry. That's Mr. Spock's phrase, if I'm not mistaken.
Ms. ANSARI: Yeah, I know. Live long and prosper. (Foreign language spoken)
Ms. ANSARI: That's what I think it would translate to. Not that you could tell what I said.
SIMON: Let's listen to you, if we could, from aboard the International Space Station.
(Soundbite of radio transmission)
Ms. ANSARI: This journey's been wonderful for me. It's a personal and spiritual experience that I will cherish forever. And from the first moment that I stepped on the Soyuz capsule with all the anxieties and anticipations, the motion sickness, the adjustments that I had to go through for two days to get up here, and then the moment that I arrived on the station, and it was like going to Mecca or going to Jerusalem or those who are believers.
SIMON: Now, when you say those who are believers, believers in?
Ms. ANSARI: Believers in spiritual being, in a higher power, in something bigger than our lives here.
SIMON: You also are frank enough to reprint some emails you got from people who didn't think it was such a great idea that you'd been able to buy a ticket. May I share one of them?
Ms. ANSARI: Please do.
SIMON: Woman who says: When I saw how much she has paid, $20 million, I thought how many children could be saved from dying with this money. Oh God, I would do many other things if I were her.
Now, she of course is not you, and you and your husband reportedly give generously to many charities. But what is your answer to that - for a $20 million joy ride?
Ms. ANSARI: Well, I think it's the way you look at it. You just called it a $20 million joy ride, and maybe if she would have gone on this trip, it would have been a joy ride for her. But for me it was not a joy ride. It was something that made my life complete. I had worked hard for it. It happened to be something that I had to write a $20 million check for, but if someone had offered me to go to space and it was a one-way ticket, I would have done the same thing.
And to be honest with you, I look at my trip and how many lives it has touched and how much hope it has brought to a lot of young girls around the world. I would even say that alone was worth it. And it was at a time that people in Iran were subject to a lot of negative publicity, negative news, and just something that was positive, something that had the word Iran in it and next to it was something positive brought them joy. I think that that was definitely worth it as well.
SIMON: Anousheh Ansari, her new book, written with Homer Hickam, is "My Dream of Stars: From Daughter of Iran to Space Pioneer."
Cosmonaut Ansari, nice talking to you.
Ms. ANSARI: A pleasure talking to you, Scott.
SIMON: And you can see video of Anousheh Ansari in the International Space Station on our Web site, NPR.org/Soapbox.
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