Anousheh Ansari: The first female space explorer

Anousheh Ansari stands in front of the American flag in a spacesuit
Courtesy of su.org

Anousheh Ansari is the first Muslim woman and Iranian to become a “space tourist”. She is also a successful entrepreneur who empowers women to achieve their dreams. 

If asked to name someone who has been to space, most people’s answers would say the same names: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first people to walk on the moon are obvious choices. The cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly into space, is another well-known figure. However, in this line-up of impressive astronauts and cosmonauts, one lesser-known name is often absent.

In part, her story is not known because she’s not the typical astronaut. The first Muslim woman and first person of Iranian descent in space is a private explorer.

This means that, rather than launching into space as a professional astronaut, she went into space as a “tourist.” This woman is Anousheh Ansari.

Anousheh Ansari is the first female private space explorer, a successful entrepreneur, and an immigrant in the USA. Anousheh Ansari was born in Iran in 1966 and she came to the USA as a teenager. She did not know any English at the time of her arrival. 

She worked hard to improve her English and later earned a bachelor’s degree in electronics and computer engineering. After graduating from George Mason University, she went to George Washington University for her master’s degree. There, she earned a master’s in electrical engineering.  

Just a few years after graduating, Anousheh Ansari, her husband, and her brother-in-law cofounded a company called Telecom Technologies.

Telecom Technologies was later merged with another company. However, while Anousheh Ansari was running it, Telecom Technologies was one of the 500 fastest-growing companies. This was only the beginning of her success as an entrepreneur. 

She co-founded another company called Prodea Systems, that handles services related to the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT refers to devices that are connected to the internet, like remote control thermostats and tablets. Through the funds raised by her success as an entrepreneur, Anousheh Ansari and her brother-in-law made a donation of 10 million dollars to the X Prize Foundation. The Foundation is a nonprofit organization that holds competitions for inventors to create inventions that help others.

The donation they made funded a $10 million prize for any company that could launch a reusable spacecraft into space.

The winner of this prize was the company called Scaled Composites of Mojave, Calif. Their spaceship, called SpaceShipOne was designed by an American designer for “space tourism.” Space tourism is travel into outer space as a form of recreation; it’s like a vacation in space. 

Anousheh Ansari decided to contact the space tourism company, Space Adventures, Ltd to arrange for her journey to space on the SpaceShipOne! She wanted to fulfill one of her dreams but going to space wasn’t easy. Along with her donation, she had to train for months to get ready for her trip. 

More than just experiencing what it was like to go to space, she wanted to be a Space Ambassador.

In her role as a Space Ambassador, she works to make space travel possible for others. Anousheh Ansari also makes others aware of the possibilities of space exploration and urges girls and women to achieve their dreams.

Over 10 years since she funded it, Anousheh Ansari is now the CEO of XPRIZE! She dreams that, with funding, anyone can come up with solutions for the world’s biggest issues. She doesn’t want the success of others to depend on their gender or how much money they have. Today, in addition to being the CEO, she is the co-founder of the Billion Dollar Fund for Women.

The mission of her fund is to invest at least $1 billion into companies started by women so they can follow her footsteps and become successful businesswomen. 

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About Akudo McGee
Akudo McGee is a recent graduate from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. McGee has a Masters degree in European studies. Her field of focus is forced migration.