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Ansari blasts off in Russia rocket

First Iranian in space

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Russia's Soyuz rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan this Monday morning (04:09 GMT), notching up three "firsts" in the process. The pod atop the rocket carried Anousheh Ansari, and when the rocket entered orbit, she became the first female space tourist, as well as the first female Muslim and the first Iranian in space.

Ansari, a telecommunications engineer by day, space nut the rest of the time, was instrumental in securing funding for the Ansari-X Prize, the competition to build a commercial sub-orbital spacecraft.

She won her seat on the flight to the International Space Station when Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto was told he was medically unfit for the journey. A seat on a Soyuz rocket bound for the ISS is reported to cost approxiately $20m. Training for the mission then takes six months.

Also aboard the rocket were American Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian Mikhail Tyurin. They will stay on board the ISS for six months. Ansari will stay for just ten days, returning with the current crew.

For all that she is technically a space tourist, Ansari will not be idle while aboard the ISS. While on board the space station, she has agreed to take part in several experiments for the European Space Agency ESA, and will speak to students back on Earth. She has said that she hopes her trip will inspire Iranian girls to study science.

Bizarrely, she was asked to remove an Iranian flag from her spacesuit, according to Reuters. She was also asked, by Russian and US governments, not to make any political statements while on board the ISS.

The Ansari family left Iran for America when Anousheh was still very young, and she has not been back since. She has said she is looking forward to seeing her native country from space, and told reporters she would pack another Iranian flag in her bag. ®

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