Astronaut Anousheh Ansari: Muslim women in high places

Better get to the spaceport early

With all the trouble that Muslim passengers go through at the airport these days, it’s comforting to know that at least one Muslim will be entrusted with the flight of a lifetime – hopefully without the hassle that people who Fly While Muslim go through. After an ailing Japanese businessman pulled out of the running, Iranian-American entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari was selected to be the next “space tourist,” paying a reported $20 million to be launched on a Russian Soyuz space capsule for a visit to the International Space Station.

Ansari, whose family helped fund the Ansari X-Prize to spur the development of private space travel (so much for Muslims not contributing anything to the modern world), will become the first Muslim woman astronaut (though not the first Muslim in space). “By reaching this dream I’ve had since childhood, I hope to tangibly demonstrate to young people all over the world that there is no limit to what they can accomplish,” said Ansari, 39, who immigrated from Iran as a teenager and went on to found several successful technology companies.

Ansari’s trip to space comes at a time when tensions between her adopted country and the one where she grew up have reached a fever pitch, with the US treating Iran’s recent opening of a heavy-water plant as a confrontational move. “I believe [Iran] is the greatest enemy we will ever face,” said Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) in a speech Tuesday, explaining that Iran wants to take over al-Qaida’s unfinished business and introducing the legislative groundwork for military intervention in Iran.

With Ansari’s space flight scheduled for September 14th, one can only wonder what she would be thinking if she gazes down from the International Space Station – after having shown through her example what is possible when you put the best of America and the best of the Muslim world together – only to see small dots of light scattered over the land of her birth.

Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of

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