Iranian-born space tourist ready for blast-off
Updated: 2006-09-18 16:49
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan - A Russian Soyuz spacecraft was set to blast off on
Monday carrying a woman who will accomplish a trio of space firsts: the first
female tourist, first female Muslim, and first Iranian in orbit.
Anousheh Ansari, 40, an Iranian-American telecoms entrepreneur, joins a
Russian cosmonaut and U.S. astronaut in the cramped interior of Soyuz TMA-9 for
a flight to the International Space Station (ISS).
Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian Mikhail Tyurin, who are starting a six-month
stint in space, Ansari will return to Earth in 10 days with the outgoing
Ansari, a U.S. citizen based in Dallas, Texas who
left Iran in 1984, has said she wants to be an example to her compatriots.
"I think my flight has become a sort of ray of hope for young Iranians
living in Iran, helping them to look forward to something positive, because
everything they've been hearing is all so very depressing and talks of war and
talks of bloodshed," Ansari told Reuters last week ahead of the launch.
She has, however, been told to remove an Iranian flag from her spacesuit
and, at the insistence of the Russian and U.S. governments, promise that there
will be no political messages during her trip.
Looking relaxed and
smiling at a pre-launch news conference at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
on Sunday, Ansari said she would, however, pack another Iranian flag for her
The United States and Iran have not had formal diplomatic
relations since students took 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran
in 1979. U.S. President George W. Bush has called the country part of an "axis
Ansari has not said how much she paid for the ticket but
previous space tourists have paid the Russian space programme about $20 million.
She had originally been scheduled to join a later Soyuz mission but took
the place of Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto when Russian space officials
said last month he was not able to fly for unspecified medical reasons.
Soyuz is due to blast off at 0409 GMT. To make room for it, the U.S.
space Shuttle Atlantis is undocking from the ISS.
The Soyuz craft will
dock with the space station early on Wednesday, a few hours before Atlantis is
scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.