Anousheh Ansari, First Muslim Woman in Space

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Anousheh Ansari, First Muslim Woman in Space

On September 18, 2006, Anousheh Ansari captured headlines around the world as the first female private space explorer. She also earned a place in history as the fourth private explorer to visit space and the first astronaut of Iranian descent.

She blasted off for an eight-day expedition aboard the International Space Station as part of the Expedition 14 crew of the Soyuz TMA-9, which included NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin. This was the accomplishment of a lifelong dream for her.

While in space, Anousheh wrote a blog that invited readers to share her experience. She described the Russian Soyuz capsule during liftoff, talked about the sights and smells of the space station, and explained the intricacies of everyday activities such as eating and washing up in zero gravity. The blog captured international attention. Her personal web site and her blog site garnered more than 50 million hits from readers around the world.

Back on Earth, as a successful serial entrepreneur, Anousheh returned to her job as co-founder and chairman of her latest technology company. Prodea Systems, a company that will dramatically alter the nature of the in-home technology experience. Prodea Systems will help customers unleash the power of the Internet and realize the full potential of their digital homes.

An active proponent of world-changing technologies and social entrepreneurship, Anousheh has dreamed of space exploration since childhood. Her family provided the 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. This feat was accomplished in 2004 by legendary aerospace designer Burt Rutan in 2004. With the success of the X Prize competition, Anousheh had helped launch a new era in private spaceflight.

In 2001, Anousheh served as co-founder, chief executive officer and chairman of the board for Telecom Technologies, Inc. After earning three key U.S. patents and growing the company to 250 employees with 100% sequential growth year over year since inception, the company successfully merged with Sonus Networks (Nasdaq: SONS), a provider of IP-based voice infrastructure products, in a deal worth approximately $750 million dollars. She served as the company’s chief executive officer and chairman of the board. Telecom Technologies created a product called a “softswitch” that allowed voice communications over the Internet.

A living example of the American dream, Anousheh immigrated to the United States as a teenager who did not speak English. She immersed herself in education, earning a bachelor’s degree in electronics and computer engineering from George Mason University, followed by a master’s degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University. She is currently working toward a master’s degree in astronomy from Swinburne University.

Anousheh 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 Teacher’s in Space project. She has received multiple honors, including the World Economic Forum Young Global Leader 2007, DFW International Community Alliance Hall of Fame award, the Working Woman’s National Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, George Mason University’s Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, George Washington University’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, and the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Southwest Region. While under her leadership, Telecom Technologies earned recognition as one of Inc. magazine’s 500 fastest-growing companies and Deloitte & Touche’s Fast 500 technology companies.

Anousheh has served on the boards of not-for-profit organizations such as Make-a-Wish Foundation of North Texas and Collin County Children’s Advocacy Center. She currently works to enable social entrepreneurs to bring about radical change globally, with organizations such as ASHOKA, which supports social entrepreneurship around the world, including the Middle East and Central Asia. In addition, she is a partner of the Meadowood Social Venture Fund and a board member of the PARSA Community Foundation, which promotes strategic philanthropy and social entrepreneurship among the global Iranian community, with a special interest towards Persian women.

Her message is gaining traction. Even as she orbited Earth, Anousheh was watched by dozens of Iranian women who went to an observatory near Tehran to catch a glimpse of the space station. Middle Eastern girls posted messages to her blog and talked about their dreams. In celebration of her accomplishments, “Anousheh Ansari Day” was proclaimed in the City of Dallas on Nov. 7 and in the City of Plano on Nov. 2, 2006. She also was awarded an honorary doctorate from International Space University.

Anousheh Ansari dreamed of going into space since she was a little girl in Iran.  That young girl, however, could not have known the impact she one day would have on dreamers around the world. Ultimately, Anousheh would build a lifetime of accomplishments in a few short decades, from creating a multi-million-dollar business to driving technological change to blasting into space. She hopes her tale of determination, struggle, and ultimate triumph will inspire children and women everywhere to dream big, study hard and see obstacles as merely problems to be solved.

Through it all, Anousheh continues to quote Gandhi, one of her personal heroes who said, “If you want to change the world, you must be the change you want to see in the world.”

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