STAR CITY, Russia – Like millions of people fascinated by space, Anousheh Ansari said Wednesday she remembers wondering as a child if somebody else like her could be out there among 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 space tourist.
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 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 at the station 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 will take place Sept. 18 if Florida weather permits the U.S. shuttle Atlantis to take off for the station Sept. 6-8, which is now likely, said Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of state-controlled RKK Energiya, Russia's leading space company.
"There is an agreement between the Russian and American sides that the latest date for the shuttle launch is Sept. 8," after which a shuttle launch would interfere with Russia's schedule for returning the current space station crew to Earth, Sevastyanov said.
Whatever the date, the trip promises a dream come true for Ansari, who said space was "in my heart and in my soul."
"Ever since I was child 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 in a better way."
Ansari, who with her husband co-founded the Texas-based company Telecom Technologies, Inc., is following in the path of space tourists 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 previous space tourists have paid some $20 million.
Another of her companies, Prodea Systems Inc., is sponsoring her trip. Prodea has 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 "X Prize," was won in 2004 by a vehicle called SpaceShipOne.
Dressed in civilian clothes, Ansari said she had worn 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 years old.
"I feel very close to the Iranian people and the culture of the country," she said.
She said she hoped her voyage and her life would inspire young people worldwide, "especially women and girls."
Once at the station, Ansari said, she would shoot films demonstrating laws of physics to be used at schools and in efforts to promote interest in science and technology. She also would conduct experiments on microbial growth in zero-gravity, and on lower back pain experienced during space flight, she said.
Tyurin, the Russian commander of the Soyuz crew, will try not to throw out his back when he takes a cut at a golf ball during a space walk in a publicity stunt to promote a Canadian golf club manufacturer — adopting a sport that is only just taking off in his home country.
The 46-year-old cosmonaut said he had taken a few lessons from "leading instructors on a world level — and not just in golf technique, but relating to the cultural nuances of the matter."
He suggested the brief golf outing would be like a day away from the office, saying space walks "as a rule are linked with the need to perform hard and crucial work."
Anybody who has taken one, he said, would understand the desire for "a little free time to absorb the amazing scenery and the unique feeling."