On September 18, 2006, Anousheh Ansari captured headlines around the world as the first female private space explorer. She was the fourth private explorer to visit space and the first astronaut of Iranian descent.
Ansari is also a serial entrepreneur and co-founder and chairman of Prodea Systems, a company that aims to simplify consumers' digital living experience. Prior to founding Prodea, Ansari served as co-founder, CEO and chairman of Telecom Technologies, Inc.
To help drive commercialization of the space industry, Ansari and her family provided title sponsorship for the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million cash award for the first non-governmental organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks.
Ansari is a member of the X Prize Foundation’s Vision Circle, as well as its Board of Trustees. She is a life member in the Association of Space Explorers and on the advisory board of the Teachers in Space project.
Question: What was your most exciting moment in outer space?
Anousheh Ansari: I think one of the most memorable moments was when I first saw earth because I had seen many pictures, many videos of earth from space, and being able to see that with my own eyes had a completely different effect, and sort of almost sensing life emanating from our planet in the dark background of the space, it was a really memorable experience.
Question: What was your most frightening moment in outer space?
Anousheh Ansari: I wasn’t frightened. I’d been living this in my head for many, many years, so I sort of had played all of these scenarios of flying into space and seeing earth. I think I was very prepared for it. It was almost a completely joyful, very happy, very exciting experience, and I didn’t have time or any desire to think about what things could go wrong.
Question: How close are we to “space tourism”?
Anousheh Ansari: Well, the first design which is the design that won the Ansari X Prize that was designed by Mohave Air and Space has been commercialized by Virgin Galactic. Right now I think the plans are for the first commercial flight to take place in 2012. So, it’s not that far away, and I think from there, we will see a lot more competition, and I know many other companies are building, you know, designing new spacecraft for orbital and suborbital flight. So, as soon as we see competition then we’ll see the prices come down and really an industry being created.
Question: What message do you hope your space flight will send to Middle Eastern women, and to Middle Eastern men?
Anousheh Ansari: Actually I think space travel is a dream for many men and women. I think my trip will be perceived differently by different genders because for women, a lot of time, not only space travel, it’s not accessible to everyone, but is even less accessible to women, there are a lot more barriers for them especially if they live in countries where things like space travel, engineering, any science and technology-related field would be considered a more male-dominated, male-appropriate field. And so I want to show them that there is nothing preventing woman, or making them less qualified to be involved in any of these fields. But equally, I think men also get very interested because, as I said, that space is not accessible today to many people and one of my goals as my involvement through Ansari X Prize was to create opportunity for everyone equally, men and women.
Question: What role do women’s rights play in the ongoing public protests in Iran?
Anousheh Ansari: I would say that women’s rights are definitely a key issue because you also see women actually in a way being very, very active in this movement. It has been an issue over the past years, and the situation sort of fluctuates sometimes it gets a little bit easier and then it gets harder again, and overall, I think women in Iran are very resilient and I am very proud of all the Iranian women that are standing up for their rights and speaking out, and I hope that they will succeed and I am glad the international community is paying attention and supporting them as well.
Question: How do you hope your company will affect people’s digital lifestyles?
Anousheh Ansari: At Prodea, what you wanted to do was build a platform to be able to deliver Internet-based application to the users in sort of a mass-market environment regardless of their skill sets, or where they live. And we wanted to do that so they can consume the information, or the experience, or the application through any medium that they are used to using, whether it’s mobile or the TV or their PC or any other devices that could be created, in an ubiquitous manner. And making information and services ubiquitously and simply available to everyone will actually close the digital gap that exists today between generations sometimes, and create new opportunities actually for current applications service providers to address a much larger marketplace and be able to design applications that are more suited for this larger audience.