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Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 10:20 p.m.

First female space tourist pushes engineers to aim high

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Alumna Anousheh Ansari, the first female private space explorer, encouraged students to follow their dreams while speaking in the Marvin Center Thursday. Nicholas Russell | Hatchet Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Chloe Sorvino.

Anousheh Ansari spent her childhood in Iran dreaming about the solar system. Decades later, she became the first female private explorer to visit space – an achievement she credits to a relentless pursuit of her dreams.

“Stick to your crazy ideas,” Ansari told students at the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s speaker series Thursday afternoon, urging them to push their limits and create their own success.

“It’s very easy to give up on dreams as we grow older,” the Dallas businesswoman who earned her master’s degree from GW said. “But it’s very important to keep that imagination alive.”

Ansari, who moved to the United States in her teens, is also the first Iranian and first female Muslim astronaut.

When asked to give advice for students, the self-funded space visitor told The Hatchet, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t accomplish something. When you put your will behind something, you can accomplish anything.”

Ansari’s opportunity to tour space came unexpectedly.

Three weeks before the Sept. 2006 mission was set to leave, Ansari, who spent months training as a back-up for the flight, took the place of an astronaut ailed with kidney stones.

The Ansari family has donated millions of dollars to help fund private space exploration. Still, Ansari believes outer space won’t become a real vacation destination within her lifetime.

“The technology needs to become something you can do in a week. You cannot prepare for a vacation with six months of training,” she said.

On her flight to space, Ansari remembers staring out the tiny window in the space craft and seeing Earth without national borders.

“You can’t see different religions or ethnicities. That is why I want people to see space. It changes your perspective on everything,” she said.

“Imagine if policymakers saw it. You just don’t see the differences anymore. It’s all the same,” she said.

Samantha Hurley, a senior majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering, said she was inspired by Ansari’s experience.

Hurley, who said she has wanted to be an astronaut since she was 5 years old, said Ansaris story showed “the channels she went through to get to space.”

SEAS Dean David Dolling stressed the importance of bringing in successful alumni for students to learn from.

“Our alumni speakers open the eyes of the students who are here now. It tells the students that you really can do what you set your heart on,” Dolling said.

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