Space tourism: The final frontier

Anousheh Ansari is the first female private astronaut and she loves chocolate.

Published September 19, 2006 11:00PM (EDT)

Blast off! Entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari departed Earth for outer space on Monday, and there's been a lot of hullabaloo over the fact that she is the first female space tourist. Seeing women set precedent is always cool, and Ansari seems excited to trailblaze, telling CNN, "Me being the first female has inspired a lot of women and girls in Iran, especially being Iranian." (Ansari was born in Iran and emigrated to the U.S. when she was 16.) "I've received numerous e-mails, messages of different sorts saying how proud of me they are." It's also fairly impressive, given the relative paucity of incredibly wealthy female entrepreneurs, that Ansari was able to pony up the estimated $20 million fee for a seat on the voyage (though she's currently being sued for insider trading, putting a damper on this somewhat). We wish Ansari a safe trip, and the best of luck with her aim of developing suborbital spacecraft.

Still, we'd hate for Ansari's accomplishments to overshadow those of full-time female astronauts, whose brains and bravery certainly deserve their own fanfare. So now seems like a good moment to send a shout-out to pioneers in the field -- like Col. Eileen Collins, who was the first woman shuttle commander and who retired earlier this year, and Mae Jemison, the first woman of color to go into space -- as well as the current women of NASA.

Last, we thought we'd share an underreported tidbit that applies both to Ansari and to female astronauts generally: Women in space love chocolate. Courtesy of ABC News: "Ansari has something in common with two of the three women who have already flown into space this summer. Lisa Nowak was a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Discovery STS 121 mission, and she made sure chocolate was on the menu when she flew. Spacewalker Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper, who is on STS 115 that is scheduled to land later this week, also wanted chocolate. Ansari said to ABC News that she didn't care what was on the menu on the International Space Station as long as there was one thing -- chocolate." Naturally, right? Screw aeronautical engineering; where's the Toblerone? Here's hoping ABC News features some similar scoops in coming days, perhaps announcing that since so many spacewomen are currently PMSing, "Friends" reruns will be screened aboard the space station.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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