When engineer and businesswoman Anousheh Ansari returned from space, something changed. Having achieved her childhood fantasy of seeing Earth from above, she was determined to help others achieve their dreams too.
“I grew up with my head in the sky. I was born and raised in Iran and all I could imagine was going to space,” Ansari said during a presentation at WIRED2016 in London.
Ansari is best-known as the first female private space explorer and first astronaut of Iranian descent. As a child she drew pictures of rockets and alien worlds, with the adults around her saying it was a phase she would grow out of and forget. “But I showed them wrong,” said Ansari, smiling.
In 2006 she visited the International Space Station. It was an experience that had a profound impact.
“When you’re up there you have this transformational experience,” Ansari explained. “You see this beautiful planet that is our home. You see how it shrinks in size and how the borders just melt away and you see one home.”
Having previously made a multi-million dollar donation to the original space-focussed XPRIZE in May 2004, Ansari’s current business seems more prosaic. Prodea Systems, founded shortly after her return to Earth in 2006, focuses on the Internet of Things.
“I was inspired to make a bigger impact on the world,” she said.
To that end, Prodea manufactures technology that turns TVs into basic internet terminals, bringing web access to areas of rural India previously almost totally disconnected. “We’re using our technology to take education, health and other services to the most rural parts of India,” Ansari explained. As well as bringing much-needed web access, she also hopes the technology will inspire children “to do things that might seem completely impossible to them”.
“Having been through this experience I knew that others could do the same thing,” she said.