In agreeing to review My Dream of Stars: From Daughter of Iran to Space Pioneer
by Anousheh Ansari with Homer Hickam, I was not sure if Anousheh’s story would captivate me or not. I had met Anousheh at Yuri’s Night at NASA Ames on April 12, 2007, seven months after her journey to the International Space Station. At that time I knew little about her other than she was a self-made millionaire who had paid a large sum of money to fly to the International Space Station aboard a Soyuz rocket and spent a week there. She seemed nice, but a little shy and reserved. However, if I knew then what I know now, well we would have a had great conversation. You see, that’s because in a small way I now know her story, and what a story it is.
Anousheh’s story begins in her native land, Iran. It’s a story of family upheaval and finally a new life in America, success in the land of opportunity and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream shortly after her 40th birthday.
The book is divided into three stages of her life; An Iranian Girl, A Woman of the World and A Woman of the Stars. The book is written in collaboration with Homer Hickam who has quite story of his own. From the moment I started reading about her life in Iran I was hooked. Each page just seemed to flow into the next and I found it hard to put it down, it was completely captivating.
Anousheh grew up in an Iran that is very different than what we see portrayed today. She watched Star Trek and dreamed of the stars. But soon her parents were divorced, then the Shah was overthrown, there was the war with Iraq, and Saddam Hussein and she had to grow up quickly. At the age of 17 her father announced they were going to America. It would not be a direct route as they had to go through Germany. At this point she began her second stage, A Woman of the World.
As A Woman of the World Anousheh’s education began in earnest when she arrived in America. Hardly understanding or speaking English but being a hard working, smart student she soon graduated high school and went to George Mason University. She majored in electrical engineering, excelled and and met her future husband, Hamid Ansari, at her new job which she landed before graduating. In meeting Hamid her life changed forever. Hamid’s brother deserves some credit as he knew Anousheh and Hamid were meant for each and he played matchmaker. Did I mention this story is a love story as well?
In meeting the Ansari brother’s Anousheh’s career began in earnest. Her job also paid for university courses so while she worked she pursued a master’s degree. Together with the Ansari brothers, Anousheh was convinced to try the entrepreneurial route so that they could make it on their own after her company left the DC area for Texas. As with many new entrepreneurs there were trying times and soon the found themselves moving to Texas and becoming consultants to the company they had left.
But trouble was brewing soon thereafter the trio found themselves starting a new company. Thus began telecom technologies, inc (tti) which would become the little company that could and then the mid-size company that could and eventually a public company. But before going public there was interest by other companies to buy them outright. After long and sometimes painful negotiations, it was a done deal. By the Fall of 2001 Anousheh was ready for another adventure.
The new adventure would start with some much deserved time off in Hawaii but soon the stars would beckon. Upon returning to Texas she became aware of the new X Prize Foundation. A meeting was arranged with Peter Diamondis and soon the Ansari’s were hooked. The catch, they wanted two of the first tickets when the sub-orbital market became a reality. Thus the third stage on Anousheh’s life was about to begin, A Woman of the Stars.
Several years later Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites won the X Prize and at at a 1st anniversary dinner she met Eric Anderson who would introduce her to Space Adventures, the company that arranged for Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth to fly to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz.
By this time Anousheh and the Ansari brothers had started a new company. But Eric tempted Anousheh with the possibility of going into space. Reluctant to leave the brothers to go to Star City in Russia for training Anousheh debated the idea. But soon Hamid acknowledged that she should jump at the opportunity. She said yes. It didn’t mean she would fly, but at least she would go through the testing and see if she could qualify. It also meant six months away from her husband and family. But her dream was withing her grasp.
The story from this point is about her journey to Moscow and the six months of training. It gives the reader and excellent insight into what the Russian make their cosmonauts go through. Anousheh sailed through training. But she still didn’t have flight. That is until Dice-K, the Japanese entrepreneur was medically disqualified less than three weeks from flight. Anousheh’s opportunity was at hand and she seized it.
Her experiences leading up to launch and aboard the Soyuz spacecraft and the International Space Station are well documented. It was a time she’ll never forget. Just as meeting Hamid changed her life forever so did flying in space. Millions around the world shared her experiences and she connected with people from her native land who also wanted to make their dreams come true.
Because of Anousheh I’ve no doubt some will follow their path to their dreams and make them come through. Her story is courageous one and throughout the book the one recurring theme is the strong sense of family she has. With her family’s help she dreamt of the stars and touched them ever so briefly.