The X Prize Foundation CEO on her unique experience as the first self-funded woman to fly to the International Space Station, and how innovation could help us cope with the covid-19 pandemic
9 September 2020
IN 2006, Anousheh Ansari made history in several ways. Joining an international crew of astronauts aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, she became the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman in space, as well as the first self-funded woman to fly to the International Space Station, where she spent nine days conducting science experiments. Prior to blasting off from our planet, Ansari and her family sponsored the first X Prize competition, which offered a $10 million reward to the first non-governmental organisation to launch a reusable crewed spacecraft into space twice in two weeks.
Ansari is now the CEO of the X Prize Foundation, which offers large sums of money as incentives to find solutions for huge global issues. There have been X Prizes offered for engineering efficient vehicles, cleaning up oil spills, landing a rover on the moon, improving adult literacy and designing sensors to monitor health. Now, the X Prize Foundation is turning towards the biggest threats we face today: the loss of biodiversity due to climate change and the creation of treatments and vaccines for covid-19. New Scientist spoke to Ansari about how her experiences in space helped give her the collaborative outlook we need to tackle these challenges together.
Chelsea Whyte: You are best known for being one of the first people to self-fund a trip to space. Were you always interested in space?
Anousheh Ansari: I was fascinated with space and stars. As a young child, when I looked at the night skies, I was just very curious to see what’s out there. I always believed there were aliens out there and …