Few people have the determination, persistence and resources to achieve the dreams of their childhood. In 2006, Anousheh Ansari fulfilled her lifelong dream, joining the ranks of Sally Ride, Eileen Collins, and Christa McAuliffe as one of just 59 women, according to NASA, who have flown in space. Hers is an unlikely story, to be sure, but one that underscores the importance of daring to dream, and the hard work required for success.
Anousheh Ansari grew up in Mashhad, Iran during a turbulent time. Revolution was occurring in the late 70’s. Shortages of food, fuel and supplies were common, as were gunshots and erratic electricity outages. Family circumstances resulted in several moves and struggles getting to school. Among all the challenges she faced as a little girl, Anousheh found peace as she gazed at the stars. “The night sky was not only a playground for my mind, it was also a refuge where I could hide amongst the stars, away from all the sadness in my life.” Fascinated with the stars, she always wanted to be among them, and her dream of space exploration was born.
Education was important to Anousheh’s family, and she was a curious child who asked many questions. When she immigrated to the United States as a teenager with her mother and sister, she was determined to learn English and benefit from the education system in her new country. Imagination is a powerful gift, and Anousheh retained abundant imagination. Watching Star Trek episodes helped keep her sense of exploration alive. “I thought Captain Kirk had the best job ever – to go boldly where no man had gone before.” Earning degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, she was prepared to put imagination and innovation to work.
Women are underrepresented in the field of engineering, but fill a crucial role. As technology continues to change the face of the world, its place is central. “Women bring unique perspectives to process and product design that add values such as community, quality of life and family,” Anousheh points out.
No stranger to hard work and preparation, Anousheh was mindful that her small stature and voice would need to be overshadowed by her intellect in order to succeed in the male-dominated field of engineering. She and her husband diligently worked to establish a productive business, facing financial challenges head on, yet overcoming and building a company of their own. When their successful Telecom Technologies Inc. was acquired by Sonus Networks, Inc. they continued to dream and plan. As they prepared to launch their next business venture, Prodea, Inc. in 2006, Anousheh seized the opportunity of a lifetime, training for a flight into space. Her husband Hamid supported Anousheh in her quest to travel into space and helped make it a reality. It was a life-changing experience.
Since returning from her expedition to the International Space Station, Anousheh has shared her experience with others, seeking to inspire youth around the world to pursue their dreams, and promoting enthusiasm for further space exploration. Anousheh still envisions a future filled with possibilities of more accessible space travel, time machines and parallel universes. Observing earth from space gave her hope for positive change and peace. “From space you see one earth, one home for all of us. There are no walls,” she reflects.
Anousheh believes that the future will be bright in the hands of younger generations that keep questioning and seeking to improve the world. “We have to have faith in them and teach them how to be responsible. We have to go back to our basic human values of dignity and respect. Respect for each other and for our environment…respect for life. We have to help them see a different world; a world filled with mysteries and possibilities…a beautiful peaceful world with no boundaries…and then empower them to be the change they want to see in the world.”
What does it take to accomplish a lifelong dream? In this case, the stars were clearly aligned
Anousheh Ansari shares her story of the rigorous training she underwent for space travel and the eight days she spent on the International Space Station at Plano’s Haggard Library, 3 pm on Saturday, November 4. The program is free and open to the public. Ms. Ansari will share stories and photos from her journey into space, and will present a vision to today’s aspiring engineers, innovators and entrepreneurs of how imagination plus education leads to progress.
In the well-loved story, The Little Prince, the narrator bemoans the lack of imagination in adults. The adults in his life advise him to put away his drawings because they cannot see beyond the exterior. Grown-ups couldn’t understand. “They always need explanations,” the narrator complains. Likewise, Anousheh is resolved to remain a child at heart, with an imagination which sparks innovation and progress – without explanation.