US, Iranian flags to travel into space with female tourist

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Wednesday August 30, 2006

Moscow- Amid rising tensions between the United States and Iran, their flags will fly side by side to the International Space Station in mid-September, the world's first woman space tourist Anousheh Ansari said Wednesday. The 39-year-old businesswoman spent the first 16 years of her life in Tehran before emigrating to the US, and will carry a joint tribute to her origins on her flight suit during a ten-day trip to the ISS.

"That's why both countries are on here," she said at the Gagarin cosmonaut training facility at Star City by Moscow.

Having "always dreamed and thought about the secrets of the universe," she will become the first woman to make a commercial space flight.

Reportedly costing 21.5 million US dollars, her journey follows that of American Dennis Tito in 2001, South African Mark Shuttleworth in 2002 and American Gregory Olsen in 2005.

But space officials said hold-ups in the launch of the US shuttle Atlantis could bring a four-day postponement to her scheduled departure on a Soyuz rocket on September 14.

"If the shuttle launches between September 6 to 8 then the Soyuz will fly on September 18," said Nikolai Sevastyanov, head of the Energiya space company that manages operations on the ISS for Russia.

This was the last available launch date for the Soyuz as the station's outgoing crew would otherwise have to risk a night landing, he said.

Due to bring equipment and supplies to the ISS, the Atlantis was unable to take off from Florida Sunday as the Tropical Storm Ernesto lashed the area. Ansari will fly to the orbiter with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria.

They will join German astronaut Thomas Reiter to form the station's new permanent crew. The outgoing team of astronaut Jeffrey Williams and cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov will return to earth with the businesswoman on September 24, according to the original schedule.

Ansari was training for a later mission when she was unexpectedly bumped onto the September flight roster in August when Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto failed a pre-flight medical.

Her eight-day programme on the ISS will include scientific experiments in medicine and microbiology, Energiya's Sevastyanov said.

Ansari, who made her fortune in telecom technologies, said she hopes her journey will inspire other women and girls to pursue their ambitions.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur