Four years ago Anousheh Ansari was living a dream - floating weightless in space, more than 200 miles above the earth aboard the International Space Station.
"Space always fascinated me, even as a child. What's out there? Are other beings there, looking back at us on earth?," Ansari told an audience packed into the McDonough Auditorium at Marietta College Monday.
"I really wanted to go into space," she said.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Anousheh Ansari, first female private space explorer, speaks with 8-year-old Faith Childers and her father, Mark Childers, from Lake Washington, W.Va., during an apperance Monday night at Marietta College Monday night.
Her dream must have seemed nearly impossible for Ansari who was born and raised in Iran.
"People laughed at me," she said. "I was in Iran, a country that doesn't have a space program."
Undaunted, Ansari kept dreaming - and she loved "Star Trek."
"I thought by the time I grew up there would be a real starship Enterprise," she said.
At age 16, Ansari and her parents emigrated to the United States.
"Like most teenagers, I didn't want to leave my home," she said. "I had never left Iran - I didn't speak English and I didn't want to go to the U.S."
Ansari admits it was difficult at first.
"The culture here was so different. I had to attend a large city school. It was very disconcerting," she said.
But she perservered, and within a couple of years Ansari had not only learned to speak English, she had earned a bachelor's degree in electronics and computer engineering, then proceeded to complete a master's degree in electrical engineering.
In 1993 Ansari co-founded Telecom Technologies, Inc. One of the firm's products allowed voice communications over the Internet, and was sold in 2001 for more than $750 million.
Fueled by her childhood dreams, Ansari has become a passionate proponent of commercial space exploration, and her family provided title sponsorship for the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million award presented to the first non-governmental effort to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within a two-week period.
The prize was won by aerospace designer Burt Rutan whose SpaceShipOne made two historical suborbital flights in 2004.
In 2006, after months of training, Ansari made her own mark in history by becoming the first female private space explorer, traveling as an electrical engineer with three other astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Now 43, Ansari is CEO, chairman and co-founder of Prodea Systems, Inc., a company that, according to her Web site, anoushehansari.com, "will unleash the power of the Internet to all consumers and dramatically alter and simplify consumer's digital living experience."
Ansari said her 11-day adventure in space gave her a global perspective that would have been difficult to understand from the confines of Earth.
Looking through a porthole near her sleeping quarters aboard the space station, Ansari saw Earth as a huge blue sphere with no political or geographic boundaries.
"If we can look at Earth as a spaceship and all of us as astronauts, we can all begin to live better together," she said.
"And I want to encourage imagination in young people," Ansari added. "Imagination leads us into the future."
Mark Childers of Lake Washington, W.Va., brought his 8-year-old daughter, Faith, to Ansari's presentation Monday night.
"I heard about this on the radio and thought it would be great to bring my daughter," he said. "Our kids love everything about space, and now space travel is really possible for them."
Ansari agreed, noting the first commercial passenger flight into space is scheduled by the end of 2011.
"A space port is currently being built in New Mexico by Virgin Galactic, but tickets cost around $200,000," she said. "So if you want to travel to space, start saving your money now."
Ansari's address Monday night included a video of her training with Russian astronauts as well as some incredible footage she captured while aboard the International Space Station.
"And I'm ready to go back again," she said.
In addition to Monday's presentation as part of the Marietta College Fall, 2010, Physics Colloquium Series, Ansari is scheduled to address an Economic Roundtable of the Ohio Valley luncheon at the Lafayette Hotel today.
Jacqueline Khorassani, also a native of Iran, chairs the Economic Roundtable, and invited Ansari to be part of this week's events.
Ansari has also recently written a book, "My Dream of Stars," with Homer Hickam who also wrote "Rocket Boys," the book on which the motion picture "October Sky' was based.