An X-Prize Sponsor and Space Tourist

Anousheh Ansari talks about trips to orbit, past and future

Anousheh Ansari before her launch to the International Space Station in September 2006. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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Competition in the sub-orbital market will be critical. If you keep prices at the $200,000 level, it will be a limited market. But if you bring the price down to the $10,000 level—and maybe ultimately in 25 years to $5,000—you will have lots of people. These flights don’t have to be very costly.

A&S: Nausea is a real issue for future space travelers. You struggled with it yourself during your training and then you were sick in space. What would you say to people who are worried that getting sick will mar their five minutes of zero-G?
Ansari: The first 18 hours of my flight, I was fine. I got sick because I set it off. The astronauts told me I shouldn’t do sudden movements, flipping around, and looking outside in Soyuz. Soyuz spins on its axis and orbits the earth. I was just so excited, I forgot my training, so I set it off. Aside from that, there’s medication astronauts take on short missions that have been used for a long time. You can’t take it everyday, but if you take one pill, that will sustain you and you’ll have an enjoyable experience. On a short suborbital flight people won’t have to worry about it too much.

A&S: What are your opinions on the personal spaceflight “revolution”? How close do you think we are to making space tourism a reality?
Ansari: I think we’re very close. The X-Prize has played a huge role in changing the paradigm about personal space flight. Before that, people laughed at it. When we [the Ansari family] became part of the X-Prize foundation at the beginning, three years before SpaceShipOne, when I talked about it, people said, “Are you crazy to put money in that?”

People couldn’t fathom it. Now those people ask “When can I fly?” It’s a revolution that has started, and it’s going on. It has gained support from regulatory bodies and government agencies. At first, the government held a harsh stance toward space tourism, but they’re softening. I think the industry will grow and flourish. I think it’s here to stay and won’t go away.

A&S: You’re involved in many projects. What direction is your career going to take from this point? Will you be involved in space travel again in the future?
Ansari: I certainly hope so. I’m definitely involved in educational aspects of space. I definitely hope I’ll be able to experience space flight again. I’ll definitely be on a sub-orbital flight because I’m a junkie now.

Career-wise, we’ve started a new technology company that has nothing to do with space, called Prodea Systems. I have been focusing on that product and hoping to have social uses for it. I’m also collaborating with people building space ships, and those developing regulatory information for spaceflight like those in insurance or law. If I see an area I can get more involved in, I will.

A&S: You attended the X-Prize Cup in October 2006, and I assume you talked to a lot of people about their ideas and dreams for space. You’ve also received a lot of feedback on your blog. Is there any one recurring theme you hear from the public in their comments regarding their dreams for space travel?
Ansari: One thing I hear a lot is, I think there’s a sort of mysterious draw that people have with Mars. I think Mars exploration and potential future flight to Mars is something lots of people are really excited about. At least people in the space industry. I think maybe it’s the concept of Martians or the possibility of life on Mars.

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