Anousheh Ansari Space Blog

September 13, 2006

Training as Backup

Filed under: Space Explorer — by Anousheh @ 5:21 pm


Not bad for a first time blogger 😉 I’m happy to see so many people are interested in my experience. Some of you asked me for a picture of the backup crew so I decided to give you more. I decided to share what it was like to train as backup with Peggy Whitson and Yuri Malenchenko.

Not-so-official portrait

In the first few months of training, almost all my classes were with Dice-K and the interpreters. We took the same classes and the same tests. We performed the simulations with the instructors and only caught a glimpse of the main and backup crew as we were passing in the hallways or at social events.

The last 40 days were different. Dice-K and I started to see some scheduled crew training. Dice-k would train with Michael Lopez-Alegria and Mikhail Tyurin, and I would train with Peggy Whitson and Yuri Malenchenko. I had met Peggy at a few NASA crew events in Star City and we had talked. She is a woman of strong character, super smart, and serious about space. She offered to talk with me and answer my questions any time I wanted to talk. I was very excited to get to know her and at the same time I knew she had a very tight training schedule and I did not want to be a burden. So we talked a few short times but did not connect that much.

When we started to train as a crew, everything changed. We got to know each other better. I could tell that Peggy was observing me to see if I was there just for the ride or if I’m genuinely interested in space. I think she saw my genuine passion for space because she really made me feel welcome. In ISS simulations, she was the Commander and gave me some small tasks that made me feel part of the crew. She explained everything in detail and translated for me when necessary. She gave me small pointers that made me perform well on my tasks and look professional. She was wonderful and I learned so much from her. In a way, she became my mentor. I imagine that, had my life taken a different turn and I had ended up in the Astronaut corps, I could have been like Peggy. She is a serious scientist and deeply cares for the success of the space program.

Throughout the rest of my training program I spent many quality hours with Peggy observing her and learning from her. She shared stories about her space flight and little things that you don’t think of but make a big difference when you are in space. She told me about the best observing stations onboard ISS, about how to move around, how to wash my hair and clean myself, how to use the toilet (everyone’s favorite subject) and how to interact with the rest of the crew members.

Training with backup

Getting to know Yuri took longer. Yuri is a quiet and private person. He is a man of few words. He works meticulously and slowly. He does not hurry and studies and evaluates everything around him before he takes action. Watching him in the simulator, during a series of manual docking and undocking procedures, it was obvious that he knew how to drive this vehicle with his eyes closed. He was calm and composed while entering a series of very precise maneuvers to align the Soyuz manually with the docking hatch on the ISS.

He speaks very good English, which made it easier for me to start talking with him. As we spent more time training together, I got to know him better. He has a unique sense of humor that is hard see from his always serious exterior. He is a wealth of knowledge and when he talks about different things you know he is speaking from experience and not textbooks. He is very easygoing and has a very calm voice. One time he started talking to me about all the different stages of Ascent and Descent and explained to me, in detail, what to expect as far as feelings, sounds, vibrations, lights flashing, etc. He gave me a sort of pictorial view of these important stages of my space flight and helped me visualize things that I had not studied in any of my classes. The information he gave has helped me prepare mentally not to panic on the day of the flight. At the end of our talk he said, with a SMILE, “Anousheh, don’t worry, everything will be very good and you will enjoy your flight.”

As I was training with Peggy and Yuri, I realized that I really wanted to fly to ISS with them. It would have made it a very special flight, with two women flying in Soyuz together and with Peggy being the first woman ISS Commander. Unfortunately the third seat on their scheduled flight was taken so I quickly started to lobby for switching place with the Malaysian candidate who was supposed to fly with them. They were both supportive of the idea and I was excitedly pushing on different people to negotiate with the Russian Space program to move me to their flight. And then… suddenly… I got the news that I was moved up to primary crew… and the rest of the story you know.

September 12, 2006

Birthday Bouquets

Filed under: Space Explorer — by Anousheh @ 6:01 pm

So far I’ve had a very special day. First when the doctor came to my room this morning to get my rest heart rate and BP, he brought me flowers. Then when I opened the door of our room to the hallway, there was a big poster of me with happy birthday wishes on the wall. 🙂

When I went down for breakfast there was a big arrangement of red roses, and a specially baked apple pie and some beautifully decorated food on the table. Soon after, General Korzoun walked in with the head of the training program and presented me with a big basket of white roses. I will send you some pictures.

They told me my birthday present is coming this afternoon. I was told that the tradition in Russia is that the person having a birthday throws a party. So I have invited everyone for beer after dinner.

This is a very special and memorable birthday as you can imagine. I’m only missing Hamid to make it perfect. 🙂

Quarantine is not too bad. It is just a little like groundhog day since everything is repetitive. We have designated times for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and quite a few choices of food. We are not allowed in the kitchen and cannot cook. We cannot leave the premises and can walk around only under supervision. I think I know how Martha Stewart felt in her minimum security prison 😉

On the other hand, everyone is super nice and they are doing everything they can to help us and make our stay comfortable. I have made friends that I will remember forever. So all in all no complaints…

Just a few more days and I will be in orbit … Inshaallah 🙂

Happy Birthday Anousheh!

Filed under: Personal Spaceflight — by Peter @ 11:08 am

12 September 2006

The Road to Baikonur

Filed under: Space Explorer — by Anousheh @ 10:17 am

Hello World! I don’t know who is reading this. Maybe you are a young girl, curious to know who I am… Maybe a young man who liked my picture in the paper… Maybe someone who always dreamed about flying to space and wants to know how it feels to be close to realizing this dream…

Maybe you heard about Ansari X Prize and want to know what the future holds for me and X Prize… Maybe you are an Iranian who is excited to hear the news of another Iranian-born going to space… Or maybe you are reading this by mistake. 😉

In any case, whoever you are and for whatever reason you happen to be reading this page… Welcome to my blog…

This is the first blog I have ever written. I’m usually a private person, but with what has happened in my life, I feel an obligation to share this experience with everyone out there.

As you probably know I am, in “space lingo,” at L-9. (Translation: 9 days before Launch :-)). I have been in Quarantine in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, since September 2nd. You can read all about Baikonur at Russian Space Web and Wikipedia.

I am sending a few pictures to give you a sense of where I am. This is the same place where the first person in space, Yuri Gagarin, launched from 45 years ago. Also the same place that the first female in space, Valentina Tereshkova, launched from in 1963.

Since those early days of spaceflight, there has been a tradition that the cosmonauts plant a tree upon their return. I hope to plant one when I return. I have included some pictures of Gagarin and Tereshkova’s trees. There are many trees alongside a long walkway that takes you to a view of the vast desert land of Baikonur.

One thing you can say about Russian space launches, there are many traditions and ceremonies. The closer you get to the launch day, the more ceremonies there are. I’m learning about them as I go. These traditions and ceremonies are what make these days very special and memorable. Pictures of our “Fit Check,” when we suited up and went into our capsule to make sure we “Fit” :-), and also of us raising the flags outside our “Cosmonaut Hotel,” are posted on my website as well as the NASA Expedition 14 website.

So now that you know where I am let me tell you why I’m here…

A long, long time ago, in a country far, far away… there was a young girl who had her eyes fixed on the twinkling stars of the night skies over Tehran. Back then the air was not so polluted and you could see many stars in the night skies. Summer time, when they would set up the beds outside on the balcony to sleep, she would lay in her bed and look deep into the mysterious darkness of the universe and think to herself, What’s out there? Is someone out there awake in her bed, and gazing at her in the night sky? Will she ever find her… See her… Will she fly out there and float in the wonderful, boundless freedom of space?

Well, as fate would have it, yes…

If you had asked that young girl, do you want to fly to space? her answer would have been an Enthusiastic YES! If you had asked her, do you think you will fly, the answer would have also been a Hopeful YES! And now that moment is finally near…

I was born in Iran and lived there until age 16, then migrated with my family to the U.S. and got an education in Electrical Engineering, and basically was fortunate to live the American Dream. Don’t get me wrong, the Road to Baikonur was not an easy one and had many ups and downs and obstacles. But what is important is that I stuck to my dream and did not lose my way. I hope that my trip becomes an inspiration for all of you to follow your dreams, wherever they take you. I also hope to show you the universe/space through my eyes and help you see how important space exploration is for our species. We need young imaginative minds to gaze at the skies to help us build a future that will not be earthbound.

Over the next few days before my launch, I will share with you my feelings and sentiments as I approach the Launch day, some details about my flight and the ceremonies and training I’m receiving. I look forward to sharing the next few weeks of my life with each and every one of you…

9 September 2006

September 9, 2006

Phone calls from space

Filed under: Personal Spaceflight — by Peter @ 4:40 am

I’ve just departed Los Angeles this morning en route to Isle of Man (UK) to attend the Board meeting of the International Space University (ISU). Anousheh very graciously agreed to make a few special phone calls during her precious orbital downlink opportunities. One of these calls will be to the student body of the ISU. Another will go to the student body of MIT, and one more to Google employees at the Googleplex where fellow X PRIZE Board Member Larry Page will have a chance to say hello.

Speaking of phone calls, I have say that Anousheh is quite the trouper. She’s a member of the X PRIZE Foundation’s Executive Committee, which meets monthly by telephone to discuss management issues like where X PRIZE should be focusing, the status of prizes, etc. We had our monthly call scheduled for yesterday morning (Pacific time) and even while in quarantine out in Baikonur, Anousheh still joined the call, at 11 p.m. local time in Kazakhstan. I wonder if we can get her to call in from orbit? (just kidding).

I have to say that as her launch date approaches, I’m turning green with envy! Unfortunately the slip in the launch date from Sept 14th to the 18th makes it impossible for me to attend Anousheh’s launch. I’ve heard absolutely amazing stories about watching a Soyuz launch live in person. You are so close you can feel the blast of heat from the engines, not five miles away like at Kennedy Space Center.

It was my pleasure this morning to introduce Anousheh via email to NASA Associate Administrator Rex Geveden, who will be the senior NASA representative at the Soyuz launch, and present for her landing and recovery. Congrats to Rex, NASA and the rest of the team for getting Shuttle off just in time!

-Peter (somewhere over the Atlantic en route to Isle of Man)

September 8, 2006

Anousheh Ansari, Space Explorer

Filed under: Personal Spaceflight — by Peter @ 8:31 pm

Anousheh Ansari is an amazing woman, and I am so proud that she is traveling to orbit to stay aboard the International Space Station.

I first met Anousheh while searching desperately to find a title sponsor for the X PRIZE. The competition was launched in 1996 under the St. Louis Arch, and I had searched everywhere for a company or individual visionary enough and brave enough to put up the money for the purse. I had approached hundreds of CEOs and benefactors only to be told over and over again that backing the X PRIZE was too risky, that this was a fantasy… no team would ever pull it off…

Finally in 2001 I read about Anousheh and Hamid Ansari, a couple who had just sold their company telecom technologies, inc., to Sonus Networks. The article said that Anousheh’s dream was to fly on a suborbital trip into space. I stopped and re-read that article three times. In that moment I knew that Anousheh was the person I needed to find.

To make a long story short, I met with the Ansaris just after they returned from travels to Hawaii and a few days later they agreed to become the sponsor of the X PRIZE. For this we proudly renamed the competition the Ansari X PRIZE. Since that time, Anousheh, her husband Hamid and her brother-in-law Amir have become close personal friends, board members of the X PRIZE Foundation and fellow-dreamers on how to open space.

On the other side of the equation is the company Space Adventures, Ltd., which is arranging Anousheh’s Soyuz trip. Space Adventures was founded nine years ago by myself, Mike McDowell and Eric Anderson. Most of the credit for Space Adventures’ success goes to Eric, the President and CEO, who developed the relationships with the Russian Space Agency and pioneered the first private launches to space of Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth and Greg Olsen. It was Eric who arranged for Anousheh to become the back-up Cosmonaut for the TMA-9 mission. Eric is also a Trustee of the X PRIZE Foundation.

Anousheh is going up on Soyuz as an ambassador and spokesperson for many. From my perspective she is a representative of X PRIZE and our hopes and mission of opening the space frontier… our dreams of building an industry that can unleash the resources of space for the benefit of humanity. She is also a wonderful representative of young women who aspire to math, science and entrepreneurship… a wonderful follow-on to Sally Ride and the great work she is doing with Sally Ride Science.

I’m speaking to Anousheh almost every other day. I have to admit I’m a bit jealous and can’t wait for my ride into space — either suborbital or orbital. But Anousheh has worked hard and is very deserving. She is a great ambassador for all of us and I look forward to living the experience through her eyes and voice.

-Peter H. Diamandis
Chairman/CEO, X PRIZE Foundation

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