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Ansari Hopes Space Travel Will Increase Respect For Earth Environment

Anousheh Ansari.
by Staff Writers
Baikonur (AFP) Sep 18, 2006
The world's first female space tourist launched her multi-million dollar adventure Monday, blasting off with two professional astronauts from the Baikonur cosmodrome bound for the International Space Station (ISS).

The Russian-made Soyuz rocket left the Russian base in Kazakhstan at 0408 GMT carrying a Soyuz TMA-9 capsule and its three passengers: Iranian-born US citizen and millionaire tourist Anousheh Ansari, NASA's Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin.

The capsule successfully separated minutes later and entered orbit, with docking at the ISS expected Wednesday.

"The flight is on course," ground control announced as the Soyuz, powered by 270 tonnes of low-temperature oxygen and kerosene fuel, left Earth.

Ansari, 40, will spend about eight days aboard the ISS before returning to Earth on September 28 with two of the station's current occupants, Russia's Pavel Vinogradov and American Jeffrey Williams.

Lopez-Alegria and engineer Tyurin will then man the ISS along with Germany's Thomas Reiter, who has been in space since early July.

Ansari's family shed tears of joy as the Soyuz rocket shot above the Kazakh steppe.

Then came the champagne.

"Pure joy! I'm just so happy for her -- beyond words," Ansari's sister Atousa Raissyan said.

Ansari's mother, Fakhri Shahidi, watched the craft leap skyward in amazement. "It's hard to believe my daughter is going to space," she said. "I pray with all my heart she's coming back soon."

Ansari, who came to the United States with her parents from Iran when she was 16, made a fortune in the US telecoms market and had dreamt for years of going into orbit. Her X PRIZE Foundation promotes making space more accessible to the wider public.

She is believed to have paid some 25 million dollars (20 million euros) and trained for six months in Russia's Star City facility in order to become the fourth space tourist in history.

"I feel relieved she's up there," her husband Hamid Ansari said after the blast-off. "The anticipation is over. It's the beginning of a new chapter in her life. I can't wait to see her come back."

Soyuz rockets became the main workhorses taking people to the ISS after the grounding of the US space shuttle fleet in 2003, an interruption that ended with the successful launch of the shuttle Atlantis last weekend.

In case of mishap, Russian air and naval forces were patrolling near the rocket's launch path over Kazakhstan, Siberia and the Sea of Japan.

Russia rents the Baikonur launch site from the Kazakh authorities.

Launches from the cosmodrome are accompanied by a cherished series of good-luck rituals, some of them dating back to the 1960s and the glory years of Soviet space exploration.

On their last evening before entering space, Ansari and her two professional crewmates watched the classic Soviet movie "White Sun of the Desert," something every crew has done since the film gained a reputation for bringing luck in the wake of the June 1971 Soyuz 11 accident that killed three cosmomnauts.

Since then, there have been no fatal accidents.

Before departing, the three space travelers also took a moment to autograph the doors of their room -- echoing the last-minute gesture of Yuri Gagarin, who in 1961 took off from Baikonur to become the first man in space.

Ansari Hopes Space Travel Will Increase Respect For Planet Earth

Space travel should make human beings more aware of the fragility of the Earth's environment and intensify efforts to preserve the planet, "space tourist" Anousheh Ansari said Sunday before her trip to the International Space Station.

"I'm actually hoping that your point of view will change when you see the Earth from space for the first time," Ansari, an American of Iranian origin, told a news conference.

Because "we realise how small and fragile it is compared to the rest of the universe," she said, "I hope it will give us a better sense of responsibility."

Ansari was due to blast off from the Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket at 10:08 am (0408 GMT) Monday.

An engineer who made her fortune in the telecommunications sector, she has promoted efforts to make space more accessible to humans through the X Foundation, which encourages advances in human space flight.

She is thought to have paid about 25 million dollars (20 million euros) for her first trip into space.

Ansari is to be accompanied by professional astronauts Michael Lopez-Alegria of the United States and Mikhail Tyurin of Russia for the journey to the International Space Station (ISS), where she will spend about eight days before returning to Earth on September 28 with two of the ISS's current occupants.

While at the ISS she is due to carry out experiments for the European Space Agency, as well as keeping an internet blog.

Now aged 40 and a US citizen, Ansari lived in Iran until she was 16. She said she did not want to get involved in the political tensions between the United States and Iran.

She would be taking an Iranian flag with her, she said, but added that during television broadcasts from the ISS she would probably not wear the flag on her space suit, as she has been seen doing before.

Fourteen members of Ansari's family left Moscow on Sunday for the Baikonur space centre, which Russia rents from Kazakhstan, to wish her well and witness the launch.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Soyuz Rocket Raised Into Position For Monday Launch
Baikonur (AFP) Sep 16, 2006
The Soyuz rocket that is to take the first female tourist into space was raised into position on its launch pad Saturday. The Russian rocket was first pulled by diesel train from its hangar, a journey of eight kilometres (five miles) that lasted two hours, escorted by a guard of two Russian policemen and a police dog.

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