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Space tourist hopes for return trip


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Space tourist hopes for return trip


Now that she's learned to walk in gravity again and her legs don't feel so heavy, Anousheh Ansari has some matters to take care of on Earth: things like developing a new company, promoting science and space travel, and spending time with her family.


But after a voyage to the international space station last month, one thing that has no place in Ansari's plans is a permanent stay on this planet.


"I just love that feeling of freedom that you get from being in space, and I certainly got addicted to it, so I'm hoping to be able to repeat that experience again some time soon," the Iranian-born American entrepreneur told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday.


Ansari, 40, spoke by phone after a ceremony at the Star City facility, outside Moscow, where she spent months training for her 11-day voyage as the first paying female space tourist.


"I loved being in space, and if I had a choice I would have probably stayed longer," she said.


Physically, the hardest part about being back was the gravity that pulls you down, she said. "When you come back you feel really heavy, and my husband kept telling me, 'You walk funny."'


Psychologically, the pull for Ansari is in the opposite direction: back to space.


"The only thing that keeps bringing me back to Earth is my family," said Ansari, who was seen off by about a dozen relatives when her ride to the orbital station -- a Russian Soyuz craft -- lifted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. "If I could have taken them up there with me, I probably would have just stayed forever."


Ansari's trip was a personal milestone for a woman who remembers gazing at the stars as child in Iran and wondering if there was somebody like her out there somewhere.


"My favorite view out the window was the night sky, because I always loved watching the stars, and on the station you basically have the perfect view of the stars," she said.


But it was also part of a push to promote commercial space travel, an effort she will continue to pursue.


Ansari, an electrical engineer who co-founded a family software company that was sold in 2000, helped finance the $10 million (euro8 million) Ansari X Prize for the first privately financed manned spacecraft to make a suborbital flight.


She said her family plans to play a major part in finding further X Prizes promoting commercial space travel, with the next one -- hopefully to be announced next year -- possibly rewarding a project for a lunar lander or for orbital flight.


Ansari also plans to give presentations at schools and create educational materials in hopes of sparking innovations by attracting young people to space sciences and promoting creative thinking.


"We need new propulsion systems, we need new innovations ... and I'm hoping the young minds that are going into this field will come up with revolutionary ideas for the future," she said.


Ansari will also develop a company launched the day she lifted off, Prodea Systems Inc., that is creating an appliance designed to bring Web access and Internet-based services into the homes of people who do not necessarily have computer skills.


Ansari, who lives with her husband near Dallas, Texas, had returned home after her rugged landing on the Kazakh steppe late last month. She was back in Russia briefly for the Star City ceremony, which featured a military band and a traditional Russian offering of bread and salt.


Wearing a white, flower-patterned Russian-style head scarf over her coat against the cold, she placed flowers at a monument to the first human in space, Russia's Yuri Gagarin.


Speaking Russian and choking back tears, she said that along with Iran and the United States, she now has a third country in her heart: "Russia, where my dream came true."


The commander of Russia's air force, Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov, praised Ansari's conduct during the trip, which reportedly cost her $20 million (euro 16 million).


"For such courage, we could have paid her the money," he quipped, "but in that case there would be a huge line of people hoping for space flights."


Ansari may be near the front of the line. She said she had a firm offer from the Russians to make a repeat voyage.


"They have definitely offered me the opportunity, and I'm certainly interested," she said.










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