NWU

Singapore city

If you ask me what my greatest dream is, I’ll probably tell you it’s going to space. It doesn’t even have to be that far out - a round trip to the International Space Station and back will do (can you tell I’m thinking small here?). Since there’s little chance of me doing that anytime soon, though, I could settle for shaking hands with someone who’s already been there.

Anousheh Ansari is a computer scientist, an entrepreneur and the first Muslim woman to go to space - not to mention the first woman to do so using her own funds. I caught up with her much closer to the ground, in Singapore, where she flew in to support the UN Women Singapore Committee for ending violence against women. Going to space was Anousheh’s life-long dream, along with becoming an astrophysicist. Growing up in her homeland, Iran, she would lie in her balcony and get lost in the night skies, dreaming she would one day be among the stars. “I was fascinated by the sheer mystery of space, what’s out there, what’s it like, and how I could get there,” she says.

The stars looked pretty far away in 1984, five years after the Iranian revolution, when she and her family left the country for a better life in the United States. There she studied electrical engineering and computer science. After meeting her husband, Hamid Ansari, she went into the telecommunications business. Together, they founded telecommunications company Telecom Technologies in 1993.

To put that into context, 1993 was the year when Marc Andreessen and his team released Mosaic, the first web browser. Telecom Technologies developed a method for enabling voice communications over the internet. In 2001, it merged with IP-based voice infrastructure products company Sonus Networks, in a US$750 million deal. It was the middle of the US dotcom crash.