Paris, 18 Sept. (IPS) Almost three years after Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer and human rights activist who be came the first Iranian to receive the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize, Mrs. Anousheh Ansari became the first Iranian to go into space with a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday 18 September 2006.
But her 10 days journey that would include a two-day trip to the International Space Station was saddened because the Americans refused her bearing the flag of her natal nation of Iran along with the flag of the United States, the country she is a citizen, on her space suit, in a sign of possible reconciliation between the two antagonist nations.
Her journey was saddened because the Americans refused her bearing the Iranian flag along with the flag of the United States on her space suit.
She was also asked, by Russian and US governments, not to make any political statements while on board the ISS.
Mrs. Ansari’s flight into space is a thorn into the eyes of the clerical leaders of the Islamic Republic that, because of Islamic laws on which the regime is based, bars women from such activities.
“There are hundreds of Iranian women as talented as Mrs. Ansari, but the Islam-based, clerical-led Islamic Republic would never give them any opportunity”, said one Iranian female activist in Tehran, adding: “thus, the only way, is to go where one’s aptitudes are valued”.
Surprisingly, Iranian media paid as much as possible attention to the historic event. The pro-reform daily “E’temad Melli” dared to print a picture of Mrs. Ansari in her space dress, with a caption saying: “Iranian lady off to the space today”.
Another reformist newspaper, “Hambastegui”, in an article on the flight, criticized American’s decision not to let her wear the Iranian flag on her space suit, quoting Reuters news agency saying she has said that while on orbit, she would put on another suit with the Iranian flag.
“Though political confrontations took its bite on her (Mrs. Ansari), nevertheless, she had the courage of insisting on her iranianity”, observed the pro-conservative Hamshahri, also printing a picture of Mrs. Ansari in the spacecraft.
“Actually, the Americans made a big mistake in refusing Mrs. Ansari putting on Iran’s flag, as it could help defusing animosity between the tow nations. Now, more Iranians would hate the United States”, one political analyst prognosticated, as she is reported to have already attracted praise from Iranians and Americans alike on her blog.
"Would the Americans dare to do the same thing if Anousheh was an Israeli?", asked another outraged Iranian.
The Soyuz rocket left the Russian base in Kazakhstan Monday at 0408 GMT carrying a Soyuz TMA-9 capsule and three passengers: Anousheh Ansari, NASA's Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin.
Ansari, 40, will spend about eight days aboard the ISS before returning to Earth on September 28 with two of the station's current occupants, Russia's Pavel Vinogradov and American Jeffrey Williams.
She won her reportedly 20 to 25 millions US Dollars seat on the flight to the International Space Station when Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto was told he was medically unfit for the journey, fulfilling a childhood dream.
However, she was on the waiting list and had trained for six months in Russia's Star City facility in order to become the fourth space tourist in history.
“As a young girl, she always dreamed of going into space, seeing what’s going on there, wishing to see the earth, and Iran, from far away”, her mother was quoted as having recalled.
At 35, Mrs. Ansari was one of only two women featured in a Fortune magazine list of America's 40 most successful business women.
Nearly three decades later, the 40-year-old's dreams have come true.
“I was born in Iran and lived there until the age of 16 and then moved to the United States, so, I have a lot of roots in Iran and feel very close to the Iranian people and the culture of the country”, she said in an interview recently to the British news agency Reuters.
"I feel relieved she's up there", her husband Hamid Ansari said after the blast-off. "The anticipation is over. It's the beginning of a new chapter in her life. I can't wait to see her come back".
"Pure joy! I'm just so happy for her -- beyond words", Ansari's sister and associate Atousa Raissyan said.
Ansari's mother, Fakhri Shahidi, watched the craft surge skyward in amazement. "It's hard to believe my daughter is going to space", she said. "I pray with all my heart she's coming back soon".
After immigrating to the United States in 1984 escaping the harsh realities imposed by the Islamic Republic, the Ansari family left Iran and the young Anousheh, who did not spoke English at the time, went on to earn a bachelor's degree in electronics A telecommunications tycoon engineer from Texas, the computer engineering from George Mason University, to be followed by a master's degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University before joining American company MCI.
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".
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, including $10m to the X-Prize competition - 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.
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.
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."
"Through my space flight I like to increase the awareness about space exploration. During my Soyuz flight to the International Space Station, I will try to capture and communicate every aspect of my flight experience to the public.
One of the key tools I will use to share what I see and feel with the world will be through a daily blog. I am very pleased that the X PRIZE Foundation will be hosting this blog at www.xprize.org. My hope is that everyone from around the world who has ever wondered how it feels to fly to space would be able to perform his dream. ENDS ANSARI 18906
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