First female space tourist inspires fans on Earth

Brian Jackson,

Anousheh Ansari, world's first female space tourist, is nearing an end to her stay on the International Space Station.

Ansari hoped to inspire children - especially girls - to follow in her footsteps and become engineers. Her agenda while in space seems set on accomplishing that.

The first Iranian-born astronaut spoke with high school students in Washington, D.C. via radio as the ISS passed by the national capital Sept. 20.

As the ISS became visible from an observatory in Tehran, Iran's capital, dozens of Iranian women burst into applause early Tuesday morning.

The spacecraft launched from Baikonur in Kazakhstan on Monday morning. Crewmembers Michael Lopez-Alegria of NASA and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin will take over from Expedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov and science officer Jeff Williams.

Ansari came aboard as a member of the primary crew after paying about $20 million US for a seat aboard the spacecraft. The U.S.-based Iranian-born entrepreneur plans to mix business with pleasure during her stay on the ISS, as she's slated to conduct several experiments for the European Space Agency.

Ansari is set to return to earth with the Expedition 13 crew on Thursday. She is the fourth civilian to purchase a space visit. Space Adventures, a company that sells tickets on space-bound rockets to the ultra-rich, facilitated the trip.

The first experiment Ansari is slated to conduct is called "Neocytolysis". It may help scientists understand space-induced anemia, or red blood cell shortage. Blood normally held in the body's extremities by gravity is free to move around in space, causing a high density of red blood cells.

The body then responds by killing them, and when astronauts get back to Earth, they find themselves a few cells short.

Ansari has spent six months training for the eight-day journey at Gargarin Cosmonauts Training center in Star City, Russia as well as at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The family name Ansari is already popularly associated with space-oriented firsts. They provided title sponsorship for the $10 million X-Prize award.

That prize was awarded to the first private endeavour able to reach outer space twice within two weeks.

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