Women as Global Leaders - Learning Leadership

Anousheh Ansari

First Female Private Space Explorer, Chairman and Co-Founder, Prodea Systems, Inc.

Anousheh Ansari captured headlines around the world as the first female private space explorer. Ansari earned a place in history as the fourth private explorer to visit space and the first astronaut of Iranian descent.

Photo of Anousheh Ansari
Anousheh Ansari in her spacesuit (courtesy NASA)

Back on Earth, Ansari returned to her job as co-founder and chairman of Prodea Systems, a company that will dramatically alter the nature of the in-home technology experience. Prodea Systems will help customers unleash the power of the Internet and realize the full potential of their digital homes.

Ansari dreamed of space exploration since childhood. On Sept. 18, 2006 , she blasted off for an eight-day expedition aboard the International Space Station as part of the Expedition 14 crew of the Soyuz TMA-9, which included NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin. After two days orbiting the Earth, Ansari and her fellow crewmembers docked with the International Space Station. She spent the next eight days on board as an active member of the crew, participating in experiments and enjoying the weightlessness of space.

While in space, Ansari wrote a blog at spaceblog.xprize.org that invited readers to share her experience. The blog captured international attention, and together, Ansari's personal web site and her blog gained more than 50 million hits.

An active proponent of world-changing technologies, Ansari co-founded Telecom Technologies, Inc. in 1993. She served as the company's chief executive officer and chairman of the board. Telecom Technologies created a product called a "softswitch" that allowed voice communications over the Internet. By 2001, Ansari had helped Telecom Technologies earn three key US patents. The company had grown to 250 employees and experienced 100 percent sequential growth year over year since its inception. The company then successfully merged with Sonus Networks, Inc., a provider of IP-based voice infrastructure products, in a deal worth approximately $750 million in 2001.

To help drive commercialization of the space industry, Ansari and her family provided title sponsorship for the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million cash award for the first non-governmental organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. This feat was accomplished in 2004 by legendary aerospace designer Burt Rutan. Ansari became a member of the X Prize Foundation's Vision Circle , as well as its Board of Trustees.

A living example of the American dream, Ansari immigrated to the United States as a teenager who did not speak English. She immersed herself in education, earning a bachelor's degree in electronics and computer engineering from George Mason University , followed by a master's degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University. She is currently working toward a master's degree in astronomy from Swinburne University.

She has received multiple honors, including the Working Woman's National Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, George Mason University's Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, George Washington University 's Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, and the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Southwest Region. She also has been named a life member of the Association of Space Explorers. While under her leadership, Telecom Technologies earned recognition as one of Inc. magazine's 500 fastest-growing companies and Deloitte & Touche's Fast 500 technology companies.

Ansari has served on the boards of not-for-profit organizations such as Make-a-Wish Foundation of North Texas and Collin County Children's Advocacy Center . She currently works to enable social entrepreneurs to bring about radical change globally, with organizations such as ASHOKA, which supports social entrepreneurship around the world, including the Middle East and Central Asia . In addition, she is a partner of the Meadowood Social Venture Fund and a board member of the PARSA Community Foundation, which promotes strategic philanthropy and social entrepreneurship among the global Iranian community, with a special interest towards Persian women.

Her message is gaining traction. Even as she orbited Earth, Ansari was watched by dozens of Iranian women who went to an observatory near Tehran to catch a glimpse of the space station. Middle Eastern girls posted messages to her blog and talked about their dreams. In celebration of her accomplishments, "Anousheh Ansari Day" was proclaimed in the City of Dallas on Nov. 7 and in the City of Plano on Nov. 2, 2006 . She also was awarded an honorary doctorate from International Space University.

Through it all, Ansari continues to quote Gandhi, one of her personal heroes who said, "If you want to change the world, you must be the change you want to see in the world."