First Female Space Tourist Takes Off

ByGina Sunseri

Sept. 18, 2006 — -- What do you have to do to fly into space?

You have to be incredibly smart and accomplished -- just look at the current space shuttle crew, or politically connected.

Sens. John Glenn, Jake Garn and Bill Nelson all talked NASA into giving them a ride on the space shuttle.

Or you have to be rich enough to buy a seat. For $20 million, you can get a seat on the Russian Soyuz for a quick 10-day trip back and forth to the International Space Station.

Ask Dallas businesswoman Anousheh Ansari, who became the world's first paying female space tourist today when she took off on a Russian rocket bound for the space station.

She is the fourth private astronaut to take a trip on a Russian spacecraft and visit the station.

"I have been waiting for this moment all my life, and I am looking forward to this experience, not so much the rocket ride but the experience of weightlessness and seeing Earth from the space station," Ansari said before liftoff.

She paid for her ticket to ride the Soyuz launching to the space station this week. The irony is she is smart enough to have become an astronaut on her own.

Ansari immigrated to the United States from Iran with her family when she was a teenager. She earned degrees in engineering and eventually founded her own telecommunications company in Dallas, which she and her husband sold for millions.

Her passion for space spurred her to donate $10 million for the X Prize, which backed the SpaceShipOne flights in the Mojave Desert in 2002.

Ansari's chance to fly on the Soyuz came when the Russian Space Program pulled Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto from the flight for medical reasons.

Ansari is a petite, very striking woman.

She told "Good Morning America" weekend anchor Bill Weir that she was most looking forward to one sight.

"I'll be able to see … Earth for the first time as a very bright blue, glowing in the dark background of the sky," she said.

Asked how she had been training physically and mentally, Ansari said, "Well, mentally I've been training for a lifetime now. I have been imagining this moment ever since I can remember. But physically, I started training here in March."

Ansari said her experience training in zero gravity was fun.

"I was like a kid in a candy store," she said. "I couldn't stop giggling. It was the most unique and fascinating experience I've had on Earth, and I highly recommend it to everyone to try to do that."

She wants to help make space tourism available to all.

"I certainly hope that space travel will become something common that would be accessible to everyone who wants to take the trip. I will personally do everything in my power to see that happen," Ansari said.

Ansari has something in common with two of the three women who have already flown into space this summer.

Lisa Nowak was a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Discovery STS 121 mission, and she made sure chocolate was on the menu when she flew.

Spacewalker Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper, who is on STS 115 that is scheduled to land later this week, also wanted chocolate.

Ansari said to ABC News that she didn't care what was on the menu on the International Space Station as long as there was one thing -- chocolate.

The Soyuz that launched this morning kicks off the Expedition 14 phase of the International Space Station.

Ansari's crew mates are astronaut Miguel Lopez-Alegria and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin. The third member of Expedition 14 is astronaut Sumita Williams, who will be joining the crew when she flies up as a member of Discovery's next flight, STS 116, this December.

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