Stop Hyping Anousheh Ansari - Just Let Her Inspire People

Editor's note: As is usually the case with paying passengers heading for the ISS, there is some need to whip up some hoopla to promote the flight. Anousheh Ansari's flight is no different. Alas, some of the claims made by Space Adventures don't quite hold up to close scrutiny. Moreover these marketing ploys detract from the true value that could be realized from her flight.

The first claim made about Anousheh Ansari is that she is the first female space tourist. Not true. The U.K.'s Helen Sharman was the first female space tourist when she flew to Mir in 1991. According to Wikipedia: "She was selected as astronaut by lottery on November 25, 1989 after responding to a radio advertisement asking for applicants to be the first British astronaut. The mission was known as Project Juno and was funded by the Soviet Union and a group of British companies. Helen Sharman was selected from a field of over 13,000 applicants." Sharman won a trip to outer space. You could justifiably make the claim that Ansari is the first "self-financed" female space tourist, however. I guess her use of the word "private" in her self-proclaimed title of "First Female Private Space Explorer & Space Ambassador" works too.

Then there is the claim that Anousheh Ansari will be the first person to blog from space. This depends on what you mean by "blog". Now, If Ansari is on orbit using blogging software on a laptop to enter, edit, and post her blog personally, then OK - that works for me. But if she is emailing things back to Earth for someone else to edit, format, and post and if those people on Earth are controlling the comments that are being posted to her blog, then that's been done for years and she is certainly not the first person to do so. At the present time I know that several people are indeed maintaining her blog for her. Ed Lu and Peggy Whitson (among others) sent regular letters and journal entries home from the ISS which were posted on a variety of websites the day they were released. (see Blogs in Space at MSNBC for more details on what is planned on ISS).

It would seem that Ansari will be able to email from orbit according to this 8 September 2006 ISS On-Orbit Status Report. But emailing is not necessarily "blogging": "Jeff's attempts yesterday to set up an Outlook email account for Soyuz taxi crewmember Anousheh Ansari were not successful. This is a repeat of a problem seen with previous email accounts for Soyuz taxi crewmembers. Plans are in work to give the SFP (Space Flight Participant) a regular ISS email account."

Instead of trying to hype all of the supposed firsts on this flight, why not just let this woman go up, have fun, describe the things she sees, feels, and experiences, and let that speak for itself. Hopefully, if nothing else, a few children in our overly tense and grumpy world will get inspired - and maybe work to change things for the better.

If Anousheh Ansari wants to crown herself with the somewhat presumptuous title of "world's first space ambassador" (as she does on her website) OK, I guess but that is a stretch too since people have been bringing back some inspiring ideas from space for a long time. Rusty Schweikart had some rather profound impressions of the Earth in space during his Apollo 9 mission in 1969 (when Ansari was three years old) as I recall. But if a bunch of people around the world who might not otherwise be inspired by such a mission get inspired, then who cares if she's exaggerating things a bit.

All this hype just serves to detract from the true value her flight has to offer. Anousheh Ansari has already put a substantial amount of her money where her mouth is by sponsoring some meaningful space activities on Earth such as the X-Prize. I fully expect that she will do the same once she gets home. Why confuse all of the good stuff to come with all of this promotional arm waving?

Reader note: Hi Keith: Regarding your postings of the Ansari debacle. I do not fault the Space Adventures hype - that's how they make money, 'my soap washes whiter than others', 'my toothpaste stops cavities', etc.

My complaint is with our government and its inept handling of her choice of apparel. Every Columbus day parade has Italian flags, St. Pat's displays Irish flags, and Cinco de Mayo sports Mexican flags. The KKK can parade the Nazi flag and we have the right to burn the American flag as free speech, but she is prohibited from wearing an Iranian flag? And worse, from wearing the COLORS which also happen to be the Italian, Mexican, and Hungarian colors!

Where do we get these people? Until they brought it to our attention, nobody knew what her patch looked like. Let sleeping dogs lie.

Why not just treat her flight like the others? Let the Iranians censor her downlinks, wearing shorts or other non-Muslim women attire and let the world press publish the truth.

But no, against Mark Twain's (I think) advice, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on September 17, 2006 7:19 PM.

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