Adventurers of the Year 2006

Anousheh Ansari: Citizen Spacewalker

When the Soyuz TMA-9 space capsule blasted off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 18, it carried with it Anousheh Ansari, the world's first female space tourist. Born in Iran, Ansari immigrated to the United States at the age of 16 speaking no English. Eighteen years later, in 2000, she and her husband sold their Texas-based Telecom Technologies, Inc. for an estimated 750 million dollars. And while many would have rested on their laurels, Ansari pushed full-tilt toward her personal dream: to reach space. First she provided the title sponsorship for the ten-million-dollar Ansari X Prize, a reward for the creation and successful launch of a private, manned, and reusable spacecraft. Then she plunked down an estimated 20 million dollars for her own flight.

Over the course of eight months, she trained relentlessly at the cosmonaut facility in Russia's Star City. Then on an early autumn day, she strapped herself into the Soyuz and sailed skyward atop what is effectively a modified Soviet ICBM. She reached the International Space Station intact and spent the next eight days whirling about at zero-gravity, performing various science experiments, and most often staring down at the planet below. Even for someone who achieved both the American dream and the collective dream of humanity, for someone who had pictured reaching space since childhood, Ansari was awed. "So peaceful, so full of life," she wrote of Earth. "No signs of borders, no signs of troubles. Just pure beauty."