A & S Interview: Anousheh Ansari
The X-Prize sponsor and space tourist talks about trips to orbit, past and future.
- By Bettina H. Chavanne
- AirSpaceMag.com, September 01, 2007
(Page 3 of 5)
A&S: You dreamed of becoming an astronaut when you were a child. Why didn’t you choose that path when you became an adult?
Ansari: I came to the United States to study, and when I arrived, my first thought was “I can be an astronaut.” But my family and I arrived with nothing and had to start life over again—I wasn’t a U.S. citizen. At that time, Iran was experiencing lots of conflicts. I was realistic and practical. I asked myself what are my chances of making a living as an astronaut, and I figured it probably wouldn’t be as high as if I studied a field that would make me money. I love science and math, so I picked a growing field—engineering. I never forgot about my dream. I thought “One day I’ll go and do it. Maybe I’ll become a telecom specialist and NASA will need one.” It was a longer detour than I thought.
What’s exciting for kids now is that NASA isn’t the only choice for space travel any more. With private industry getting involved building space ships and spaceports, there are other ways to get involved.
A&S: Is there anything in the astronaut training process or the spaceflight itself that was not as exciting as you thought it would be?
Ansari: I enjoyed the program because I was learning so many things and I loved it, but not everything I did was pleasant. The least pleasant were the continual medical exams. I hardly go to the doctor in a normal situation, so having to do all these tests and exams wasn’t something I enjoyed. It’s a trip you have to be in perfect health to take. There aren’t any doctors so you can’t have a problem. Even a cold could become very dangerous. So they try to make sure you’re in optimal health.
A&S: Your spaceflight and experiences in training were well documented the world over. Were there many differences in the questions (whether from the media or people responding to your blog) you received from the Iranian public versus Americans?
Ansari: There was a common thread. People wanted to know more about the specifics of my experience. I had tons of letters from Iranians congratulating me. I haven’t been in Iran myself for years, but I know that the majority of people are quite young—75 percent of the population is under the age of 30. Most young people in Iran are fascinated by everything that’s going on in the outside world. They’re not fundamentalists, they’re not after wars and fights. They’re the typical MTV generation. Iranians are number one in blogging. Because of the high level of unemployment and because there isn’t a lot of stuff going on in the country, the youth spend most of their time on computers and listening to music. Iranians are very different from their media portrayal. They thanked me for sending a positive image of Iranians to the media.
I also received many letters from Iranian women and young girls saying they were so proud of me, and that I am setting a good example for them. People said I inspired them. It was very emotional for me.
There’s an organization in Iran that publishes a monthly astronomy magazine. When they learned about my trip, they asked for an interview. I did a taped interview from Baikonur [the Soyuz launch site] before my trip. They aired it, and then organized a meeting for when the ISS did a pass over Iran. Tons of students showed up with binoculars and telescopes. People were pointing to the sky when I was passing over, and they wrote to tell me they were waving at me as I went over.
A&S: What would your ideal space science project be?
Ansari: Two things they did interested me: they do experiments with plants to observe how they grow and they do another one to see how embryos develop in zero-G. On one flight they had eggs they took up from a bird to see if they would hatch. They did hatch—but how did they come out? People would be fascinated to watch it on TV.
One other thing would be to do some experiments trying to take DNA samples from space—some believe DNA exists in space. It would be cool to do a space walk away from the station and swab the vacuum and to see if there’s truth to that.