Iranian-born Dallas businesswoman poised to be first female space tourist

Since long before leaving her native Iran as a teenager in 1984, Anousheh Ansari stared at the stars and dreamed of traveling closer to them.

Now at age 40, after an improbable journey that included learning a new language, earning an engineering degree and starting a telecommunications company that made her rich, this Dallas businesswoman will become the first female space tourist on a Soyuz spacecraft that lifts off Monday.

"I've always been fascinated with space and always wondered about the mysteries of space and wanted to be able to experience it firsthand," the Texas woman said in a telephone interview from the launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

She says she is eager to see Iran from space she has not been back since emigrating to the United States and hopes to inspire girls in her homeland to study science. Ansari says she has received e-mail messages from many of them, although her flight has received scant attention in Iran. She is, after all, an American citizen.

Ansari and her family left Iran a few years after the Islamic revolution, in part because the opportunities for a young girl to study science were becoming limited there, reports AP.

Her space ride will cost about $20 million (Ђ15.78 million). Ansari can afford it because she and her husband sold their company in 2000 for about $550 million (Ђ433.9 million) in stock from the acquiring company.

The extent of the couple's wealth is not entirely clear, because the stock fell in value. That led shareholders of the takeover company to sue Anousheh Ansari and several others for alleged insider trading. The case is pending in a Massachusetts federal court.

This is not the first time she has dipped into her personal fortune to spend on space.