Space: So Not the Final Frontier

Categories: News
You know, I always thought spacesuits were terribly unflattering. Guess it all depends who's in the thing.

There's a 30 percent chance the space shuttle Atlantis won't be able to launch today from Cape Caneveral, which so doesn't affect you. But should NASA have to delay its takeoff to Friday or past the end of the week, there are some interesting ramifications for at least one local resident: Plano's Anousheh Ansari. In case you forgot or just didn't know--I didn't, but that's because most of my interest in space exploration stops at Captain Kirk...till now--Ansari's scheduled to become what the Associated Press today calls "the first international space station-bound female space tourist" on September 18, when the Russian space agency is scheduled to send a Soyuz capsule to the space station. Should NASA have to ground Atlantis past Friday, that could cause a problem, since it'll begin encroaching on Russia's launch window.

Ansari only last month got the spot on the Russian trip: She replaced Daisuke Enomoto, a Japanese businessman who paid $20 million for the 10-day trip to the orbiting lab but then fell ill. Russians have been working since late August to reconfigure the capsule, since "a woman's organism is different," says Nikolai Sevastyanov, president and general designer of Rocket Space Corporation Energiya. And how did she land the spot to become only the fourth space tourist (besides ponying up the dough, duh)? Well, the 39-year-old Iranian-born Ansari is chairman and co-founder of Plano-based Prodea Systems, which has something to do with providing "digital home management solutions," by which I assume they do more than program VCRs.

But more important, her family also provided the title sponsorship for the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million cash award given to the "first non-governmental organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks." It was won by aerospace designer Burt Rutan in 2004; I fully expect to win by 2009. Also, if you go to the X Prize's Web site starting September 9, Ansari will blog about her experiences prepping for and actually being in space. I can barely blog from the house these days. --Robert Wilonsky

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