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Last Updated: Friday, 15 September 2006, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Anousheh Ansari: A passion for space travel
Anousheh Ansari spent her childhood in Iran dreaming of venturing into space. On Monday, that dream came close to fulfilment when the businesswomen with American citizenship boarded a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Anousheh Ansari
Anousheh Ansari has done more than any space tourist to further private space travel
The telecommunications tycoon from Texas, became the fourth person - and first woman - to pay an estimated $20m to travel into space.

She blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, part of a crew-exchange flight to the International Space Station.

Her journey will last for 10 days and will include a two-day trip to the International Space Station.

The Star Trek fan, who spent her early childhood in pre-revolutionary Iran, has spoken of the nights on the balcony gazing at the stars and a longing to become an astronaut.

Three decades on, she now describes herself as an "ambassador" for commercial space travel.

Ansari is the first space tourist to have passionately pursued the development of private space flight, using her grounding in business and science to do this.

Fortune

After emigrating to the United States in her teens, she went on to earn a bachelor's degree in electronics and computer engineering from George Mason University.

Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
A master's degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University followed before she joined American company MCI.

In 1993, Ms Ansari set up a telecommunications company with her husband Hamid. This was eventually sold for hundreds of millions of dollars and part of the fortune went into funding Ms Ansari's interest in the space industry.

In 2002, her family contributed $10m dollars to the X Foundation, set up to encourage advances in human space flight.

The money formed a prize, the Ansari X Prize - a race to be the first private company to put a craft into space twice in two weeks.

The competition was won by aircraft designer Burt Rutan in 2004 with his SpaceShipOne.

When he later announced that he was joining with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic Company to make a larger version for commercial suborbital flights by 2008, Mrs Ansari immediately reserved her seat.

She has also been involved in a family venture called Prodea, which is developing a line of air-launched suborbital vehicles in partnership with Virginia-based Space Adventures, as well as spaceports in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore to launch them.

Roots in Iran

At 35, Ms Ansari was one of only two women to be featured in a Fortune magazine list of America's 40 most successful business figures under the age of 40. She was described as "the boldest newcomer".

Ms Ansari has been wearing both the American and Iranian flags on her space suit in training. She says she wanted to recognise both countries' contributions to her life.

I feel very close to the Iranian people and the culture of the country
''I was born in Iran and lived there until the age of 16 and then moved to the United States,'' she said in an interview recently. ''So I have a lot of roots in Iran and feel very close to the Iranian people and the culture of the country.''

Her trip has received limited attention in Iran, although a few days before she was scheduled to blast into space, an Iranian TV channel aired a 70-minute interview with her.

Ms Ansari says she will write the first blog from space. She says that her ultimate goal is to bring her experience and "the ability to fly to space to more and more people and to inspire young woman and men to go into the fields related to space."

She has already attracted praise from Iranians and Americans alike on her blog.




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Anousheh Ansari makes last-minute preparations



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