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Frequently Asked Questions

There have been many questions about Anousheh, her life, her success and her space adventures. Below are several of the commonly asked questions along with pictures for your enjoyment.

When did you become interested in space?

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Anousheh as a young child in Iran

Since I was a young girl in Iran, space has always fascinated me.  I would lie on my balcony at night and just look up at the stars. I was fascinated by the sheer mystery of space, what’s out there, what’s it like and how I could get there. When I was young I made the decision I wanted to be an astronaut/astrophysicist and travel into space.

You arrived in the United States at the age of 16 not speaking a word of English. How challenging was it for you to progress to where you are today?

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Anousheh as a teenager

Education has always been emphasized in my family. So when I came to the United States as a teenager, I was already in the mindset that I must work hard to learn English, as well as my chosen field of study. There is so much opportunity in the United States, and I have worked hard to take advantage of those opportunities to achieve my dreams. It’s been challenging, but following your dreams is always a challenge. I wouldn’t want to live any other way.

What afforded you the opportunity to take this trip?

My husband and I started our own company, Telecom Technologies, Inc. using all our money out of our savings in 1994 and we worked very hard for many years.  This company eventually developed a softswitch which enabled voice communications over the Internet. In 2001, we merged with Sonus Networks, Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS), a provider of IP-based voice infrastructure products, in a deal worth approximately $750 million.

How did you get into the telecommunications business?

I first developed an interest in telecommunications while in college. I earned a bachelor’s degree in electronics and computer engineering from George Mason University in 1989, followed by a master’s degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University in 1992.  My husband and I both launched our careers at MCI, where we gained incredible hands-on experience in the telecommunications industry. Then we saw a great opportunity to launch our own telecommunications venture. 

Why was Telecom Technologies, Inc. so successful?

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Anousheh in the Sept 2000 issue of Forbes magazine

Telecom Technologies, Inc. had fast success in part because of a groundbreaking business strategy. Rather than pursuing no-holds-barred competition with closed, proprietary technologies, we followed a strategy of cooperation and open standards. Our company actually worked with – instead of against – its competitors’ products. We invited all telecom product manufacturers to participate in an interoperability lab that our company launched and funded, despite the extra cost. This lab was a breakthrough for the entire telecommunications industry. It encouraged the development of products and services that could work together in voice networks, instead of being incompatible.

Why did you sell your company while it was still an expanding and lucrative company?

In our hearts, my family and I are entrepreneurs. We embrace the challenges of developing and launching technologies that will literally change industries. By 2001, Telecom Technologies owned three key U.S. patents and had 250 employees. The time was right for a merger with Sonus Networks, Inc. which offered the opportunity to grow the capabilities of the technology.

What convinced you to undertake such an unusual adventure to space?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had a passion for space since I was very young. I never lost that passion even as I grew older and continued on into my business life.  Once Dennis Tito started talking about buying a trip to space on the Russian Soyuz space craft in the 1990s, I decided to work really hard at my business and if all else failed, I could buy a ticket!

What prompted you to set up the Ansari X Prize and was it worth paying such a large prize?

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Hamid Ansari, Erik Lindbergh, Anousheh Ansari, Peter Diamandis, and Amir Ansari at X Prize
 
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X Prize Spaceship One Celebration

My family worked with the X Prize Foundation to provide title sponsorship for the Ansari X Prize. Together, we awarded $10 million for the first non-governmental organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. In 2004, aerospace designer Burt Rutan won the prize.

Space is a very important part of the future of human race, and space travel is something everyone should eventually have access to. My family is working toward helping the industry and making space travel more affordable and accessible to more people. The Ansari X Prize was an important step in that process, and it was well worth the investment.

You were not originally planned to travel on this Expedition. Weren’t you just training as a backup?

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Dice K and Anousheh training in a Zero Gravity Plane

In February 2006, I was asked to serve as the backup for Daisuke Enomoto (Dice-K), a private space explorer from Japan who had been slated for the trip in September. I agreed and shortly after that I started my six-month training course in Star City, Russia, as well as cross-training at Johnson Space Center in Houston.  In August 2006, just a few weeks before the scheduled flight, Dice-K was medically disqualified. I then became a primary crew of the Soyuz TMA-9 as a replacement.

Did you perform the same training as the Dice-K?

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Dice K, Anousheh and Hamid weightless in a Zero Gravity Flight

Yes, Dice-K and I had the exact same training during the six months prior to the trip.

Did you have to undergo full astronaut training for your trip?

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Zero G Training Learning to dress in zero gravity Forest Survival Training
     
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Water Survival Training Classroom Training  

I started a six-month preparation for the trip in February 2006 at Star City in Russia. This included classroom training, simulator training, zero-g and survival techniques – the same training received by astronauts but while my training was at ‘user’ level, they undergo around two years’ more in-depth training to a ‘repair systems’ level. However, I had to take an active role as crew member.

What was your least favorite training experience?

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Video  of Anousheh in the Spinning Chair   Anousheh in the Spinning Chair

The spinning chair was my least favourite training experience.

Did you ever think about quitting?

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Anousheh’s personalized space gloves

NEVER!

Why don’t you call your self a space “tourist”?

As I described above, I was part of a six-month training program along side the other crew members and I took an active role as a crew member. I think the term ‘space tourist’ undermines what you have to do on the mission.

Can you describe your feelings as you boarded the spacecraft and prepared for lift off?

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September 18, 2007 TMA9 Soyuz Launch

The day of the flight, I thought I would be really nervous so I was surprised to see that I wasn’t. We spent two and a half hours in the capsule preparing launch procedures. After that they put some music on and we had a chance to relax – it was actually very ‘zen-like’, waiting for the moment when my dream would come true. I had watched the International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 13 launch during my training so I was prepared for a lot of noise and explosions, but as the Soyuz lifted off at 2.5G, from inside the capsule the launch felt surprisingly smooth. My American fellow crew member who had also flown the Shuttle remarked that the Soyuz was very smooth in comparison.

Who were your crew members?

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September 18, 2007 TMA9 Soyuz Launch

I was part of Expedition 14 which included a total of three crew members, Commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin and myself. Our mission was to relieve Expedition 13 Commander Pavel Vingradov and NASA Science Officer Jeff Williams after their six-month mission on the ISS.

How long were you up in space?

It took two days to travel to the International Space Station then I spent eight days on the ISS before returning to earth with Vinogradov and Williams, the members of the ISS Expedition 13 crew who had spent the previous six months on board the ISS.  The trip back to earth took about four hours.

Why did it take you two days to reach the ISS?

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TMA9 Soyuz Docking to the ISS

It doesn’t take very long to get out of the earth’s atmosphere; however, our journey required circling the earth to get to the appropriate orbit for docking to the International Space Station.

What is the International Space Station?

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The ISS and a view of Earth
 
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Animated view of the ISS

The International Space Station (ISS) is a collaboration of 16 countries who have come together cooperatively and peacefully to work in space.  The ISS rotates 200 miles above the earth and has about 1500 cubic feet of space which is the same square footage as a three bedroom house.  The ISS ways about 454, 240 pounds which is approximately the weight of 40 elephants.  It moves at the speed of 17,500 miles per hour and makes a full rotation around the earth once every 90 minutes.  So each day I was able to see 16 sunsets and 16 sunrises.

What was the most awesome thing about being in space?

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Anousheh weightless in the ISS

The feeling of weightlessness was the most incredible thing about the trip. Nothing compares to the absolute freedom I felt when I could literally fly across the room and propel myself with the gentle push of a single finger.

Did you at any point pinch yourself and say, "I can't believe I'm here!"

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Anousheh experiencing the fun of weightlessness

Yes!  Every morning when I woke up I had to remind myself that I was not dreaming.

Is this the craziest thing you ever did?

Yes.  I’m not a thrill seeker.  Ridding rockets is not what interests me.  The destination is what I love, and the only way to get here now is through the Soyuz.

How did you prepare yourself for this journey, besides the intensive training?

I have been mentally preparing for it all my life, imagining this moment and my entire trip.

How was your ISS and Soyuz experience from the perspective of 'habitability'?

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Graphical picture of the Soyuz Photo of Soyuz modules
   
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Photo of Soyuz Inside the ISS

('Habitability' comprises human factor issues including, but not limited to: food, sleep, hygiene, noise, temperature, odours, movement, orientation, safety, ergonomics, provision for exercise, recreation, habitat configuration.)

The Soyuz is comprised of two habitable areas, the descent module and the Habitation module.  Both are fairly small the descend module is where the three crew stay during launch and landing.  Each crew member has a seat liner that has been moulded to their body.  The space is cramped and you have to sit in a fetal position.  The habitation module is where you eat, sleep and go to toilet.  It is also fairly small.  With all the cargo, you have enough room for three people to stand next to each other.  The ISS is a much roomier place. Considering you are living 220 mile above earth, it is fairly nice and has all the necessities for leaving comfortably.  Although, the noise level is high and the space is not designed optimally.  There is enough variety of exercise equipment available to give everyone a chance to exercise.

Do you have any suggestions for design improvements that can enhance the 'habitability' of future space habitats? 

I think adding a shower would be nice!  Auto electronic wireless inventory scanners and management system would save a lot of time for the Astronauts.  Another consideration could be to have a low noise area that would serve as sleeping quarters for all crew members.

How would you rate the experience?

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A beautiful view of our Earth

The whole experience was absolutely great! From the preparation in Star City where I could immerse myself in the space world, meeting and getting to know cosmonauts and astronauts and hearing their stories and experiences, to the trip itself. That was out of this world! Being in space was absolutely amazing, especially experiencing weightlessness. Seeing the Earth from the Space Station changed my perception of the planet and made me feel much more protective of this precious gift that we have to look after. I didn’t want to go back and even considered hiding on board the ISS, although I did miss my husband and family very much by then!

How would you compare the experience of actually going into space with what you thought it might be like, pre-lift-off? Did it meet or exceed your expectations?

After years of anticipation and six months of intensive training, my expectations were extremely high. Even so, my trip into space exceeded those expectations. It was the most thrilling experience of my life.

What was the general reaction of your family when they found out about your plans of traveling to space? And when was that exactly?

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Anousheh and her  husband, Hamid

I told my family soon after I was notified on August 21, 2006. They were all very excited and told me that they will be praying for my safe return. They’ve always known this was my life-long dream. I’ve always said that even if it was a one-way ticket, I would have taken it.

Was it difficult being away from your family during your training and flight?

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Anousheh with her family the day of the launch

I spent more than six months in intensive training to prepare for my journey to space. During that time, I stayed almost full time in Star City Moscow.  I was able to talk to my husband and the rest of my family on the phone.  Being away from them, especially my husband was one of the most difficult parts of this journey, but it was the only way I could realize my dream.

Was this experience worth the financial investment you made to take the trip?

It is hard to put a price on your dream.  I was ready to risk my life for this dream.  The experience and the satisfaction you get from knowing that you have been able to realize your childhood dream through a lot of hard work, perseverance , and sacrifice made it all worth it, as well as the months spent in preparation, were well worth it.  Seeing the Earth from the Space Station changed my perception of the planet and made me feel much more protective of this precious gift that we have to look after.

How did you purchase this trip?

I purchased this trip with the Russian Space Agency through a company called Space Adventures.  Space Adventures has purchased several seats on Russia Soyuz Expeditions.

Why do you think space is so important to society and young people today?

There are many reasons that we need space exploration.  We can investigate many problems on earth in microgravity that will help us to ensure the longevity of the human race. And every science can be applied to space from biology to new research in engines, materials and fuels.

Do you think your trip has increased people’s interest in space, especially among women?

I think my trip put a more public face on space, especially for women.  People look at me and see that I’m a regular person. That allows them to understand that flying to space is also possible for them.   We live in an exciting time, where the doors to the “final frontiers” have been kicked open to the public.  There are many new developments in the space industry right now.  Just two years ago the successful flight of the Ansari X Prize vehicle provided the first glimpse into commercial space possibilities.  Recently, NASA announced that it would pursue development of a moon base which could have potential commercial applications in future.  The possibilities are endless for people who are interested in space and you don’t have to just be a pilot or rocket scientist to pursue your interest in space.

What advice would you give to a young person considering science, engineering or space?

There is so much going on in the space industry right now. Government agencies are still doing a lot of work while private space exploration is really growing. Companies like Space Adventures and Virgin Galactic are helping to find new ways so that even more private citizens can experience space, and there will be many exciting projects to work on.  

In your professional life, did you or do you ever feel you had to prove yourself because you’re a woman?

All the time, but I did not let this make me bitter.  It was just an extra step and I took it to get to my destination.

Being a successful female entrepreneur, do you see it as a challenge to balance work and family life?

Creating balance is a challenge for every business person, especially women. I think perhaps the best way to accomplish this balance is to focus on your goals. That way, you can ensure that your time is being focused in a way that furthers those goals and objectives, both in your personal and professional life.

Why is space important to you?

I feel space is a very important part of the future of human race and space travel is something everyone should eventually have access to.  My family and I are working to raise interest in private investment into space travel, which I believe is critical to the future of the human race. We also hope to help make space travel more affordable and accessible to more people.

You’re going to be in world history.  How do you feel about that?

Fortunately, by going into space, I have gained a media platform to deliver my message to more and more people around the world. First, I’m working to inspire all people – especially women and girls – to chase their own dreams, no matter how lofty their goals may seem. I feel that as long as my trip brings a positive inspiration for our youth it is a good event to be recorded in history. 

How do you think your Iranian background has shaped the person you are today?

I’m a U.S. citizen who was born in Iran. Both countries are part of who I am. My roots are in Iran and America has given me the opportunities that I would have never had in Iran and made it possible for me to realize my dream. In particular, my Iranian heritage instilled a focus on education and a strong work ethic into my everyday life. Both countries are part of who I am.   

While on the International Space Station, I was thrilled to see people from all over the Middle East post messages on my blog, saying how excited they were to see the first Iranian astronaut blast into space. It showed how people of all backgrounds share a common bond – the longing to accomplish their dreams.

Are you a political person?

I am non political person and do not like controversy.

You've set several firsts/new benchmarks in the world.  Was this an exercise in showmanship or a genuine desire to fulfil a lifelong hobby?

Ever since I was young, I have had a passion for space and space exploration. I was fascinated by the sheer mystery of space, what’s out there, what’s it like and how I could get there. The fact that I set different benchmarks means very little in my journey. The good thing about this is that it has provided me the media platform to deliver my message to more and more people around the world.

Would you recommend it to those with a strong interest in travel/flight/exploration to endeavour to follow in your footsteps?

I would definitely recommend this to whoever has a passion for Space, for flight, for natural beauty, for exploration, and for having an out of this world experience.  I hope that someday, everyone has the opportunity to go into space. This is certainly a life altering experience.  This experience opens your mind to a bigger perspective on our home planet, the universe and the role we play in this equation.

Do you think being a woman matters in space?

I don’t think it should make any difference.  It should just be proof that both women and men can equally enjoy a trip to space.

Do you consider yourself an example for all women?

I hope to be.  I want to inspire all children (especially girls) and women around the world to dream big and to go after their dream.

What are you doing now that you are back from space?

I am very busy with many projects, but my main focus is our technology company Prodea Systems which was launched the same day I launched into space, September 18, 2006.  I’m also writing my memoirs with Homer Hickam, the #1 best selling author of Rocket Boys which was produced into the movie October Sky. I am a member of the Board of Trustees of the X Prize Foundation, as well as a member of the X Prize Foundation’s Vision Circle.  I’m working on an educational program to help inspire our youth’s interest in learning and going into math and science (especially girls) and to renew their interest and understanding of space.  I also work with two philanthropic organizations, Ashoka and PARSA.

Can you tell us more about Prodea Systems?

My family and I are running our new technology company called Prodea Systems, Inc.  This has been another dream of ours for some time.  This company will dramatically alter a consumer’s digital living experience and unleash the power of the Internet to all consumers (technical and non-technical). We haven’t launched our product to the market at this time but you can read more about our company on our web site (www.prodeasystems.com).

Can you tell us more about your book and Homer Hickam and how you chose him to help with your book?

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Anousheh with Homer Hickam

Homer actually contacted one of my employees when he found out I was going to space.  He said that he read my blog while I was in space.  We met in Alabama in December 2006 after I returned from space.  Homer and I share the same passion and interest in space which was what I hoped to find in a co-author, plus we get along great! (You can find out more details about Homer at www.homerhickam.com)

What is Ashoka?

ASHOKA is a non-profit organization that supports social entrepreneurship around the world, including the Middle East and Central Asia. (You can read more about this organization at www.ashoka.org)

What is PARSA?

PARSA Community Foundation is a non-profit organization that promotes strategic philanthropy and social entrepreneurship among the global Iranian community.  (You can read more about this organization at www.parsacf.org)

Do you have your own song?

Well yes, actually, “Be The Change” is a composition by Deep Dish who is Grammy winning duo of Sharam Tayebi and Ali “Dubfire” Shirazinia.  I was very flattered when I found out they dedicated this song to me.
(You can find out more details about Deep Dish at on their site  www.deepdish.com)

Any other dreams or adventures that you hope to accomplish in the near future?

My dream is to see space travel become like a normal option for family vacations in the future.

Do you have a message for other people that want to be in your shoes?

My message to them is not to give up and to be part of a positive force to bring space travel to the general public.  The more interest sparked in this area and the more innovation is generated, the more affordable this trip will become and they will be one step closer to realize their dream.