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Anousheh's dream comes true
Posing a general question on philanthropy


October 13, 2006

I read a lot of emails opining on Anousheh Ansaris self-funded $20-million expedition to outer space, as the first female Space Tourist, realizing her long held childhood dream.

At first, I like everyone watched incredulously, and I will admit, rather annoyingly with a good dose of jealousy to boot, at what appeared to be nothing more than a spoilt rich person's exercise in excess, an awful waste of an awful lot of money.

As Anousheh blogged her way across my day from the outer sky, sliding past the horizons of my web browser and the earth, telling me how this was so inspiring or that was so incredible, describing every daily detail of every meal inside her clean white habitat, I could at first only think of the many other things one could do with the money being spent on this glorified roller coaster ride.

And I had plenty of company in this misery. People everywhere would talk about it and there was a relatively high amount of disdain buzz about her as the trip proceeded and the days in space went on and on and on. The video messages didn't help things, as we watched Anousheh grinning and spinning her apple in space, while attempting to describe how she could not describe her "feelings".

I could feel the anger in my heart building.

But I am old enough to know that when these kinds of feelings come up, it is probably prudent to not act, (or write) on them right away, and to wait to see if time (and usually further discussions with Cameron), will allow a more focused and reasonable understanding to take hold. I think they call it Perspective.

So, just as I promised Cameron I would, I watched Anousheh speak on the Oprah Winfrey show about her experience in space, and as always happens with Oprah and often with Cameron's advice, I realized a few things.

I think I understand Anousheh a bit better now, maybe from looking into her eyes, via the TV screen at least. This is not an obvious bratty-self-serving rich person. She appears to be quite decent actually, and the smug arrogance I perceived at the beginning of this whole issue, was replaced by an understanding that this was in fact something she really really really really really wanted to do since very early in her life. And that is perfectly fine. Your money, your choice Baby.

This being said, it also explained the seemingly equally questionable x-prize/ansari prize project, in which Anousheh challenged a commercial venture to create the first non-NASA attempt at space travel. The multi-million dollar prize was ultimately won by a couple of other millionaires who spent more to win the prize, than the actual prize amount. Again, your money, your call.

Granted, one would have wished for the perfect Cinderella ending instead, the one where the starving engineer emerged victorious after years in his heavily mortgaged garage, enduring the unending ridicule of his neighbors and friends who scoffed at his crazy notion to one day "Show everyone that a commercially private venture really could make it to space!" But alas this was not to be, and once again the masters and commanders of global markets won instead. Damn the Man!

But somehow, the whole idea of commercialized space travel, put into a bit more perspective now, does not sound that crazy anymore.

Maybe that is what pioneers do. Maybe pioneers do that crazy thing that everyone thinks is crazy, ridiculous even, until they actually do it, and then it doesn't sound so crazy anymore. Maybe, that is what they call vision. Whatever it is, I don't think I have ever had one, or at least not since I stopped smoking weed. And this may be what drove me a bit off the deep end... not the not smoking weed... but listening to Anousheh's incessant inspirational expressions during her trip.

I still hold that, in my opinion, you can certainly do much more than this, with 20 million. And to me the whole "So What?" aspect of commercial space travel, with all the problems in Iran and incidentally here on earth to solve, is still largely up for debate. But the usual list of things that anyone of us would make, that could be addressed with this fortune such as, children's health research, orphanage funding, sponsoring the arts, cultural outreach programs, world hunger, an unlimited litany of philanthropically more worthwhile activities, are all too painfully obvious. Too painful to ignore as we watch Anousheh wave to us from

Maybe it is the obviousness of these lists of other things that raised the ire of so many, including myself on what appeared initially to be misplaced priorities.

But watching her on Oprah, talk about her childhood dream, I could only see the child in Anousheh's eyes as she spoke, clearly she was a changed person. Maybe for good. Maybe for the good of us all.

The one thing that struck me as most poignant during her interview, was her observation on what it felt like, looking down on the earth, that "It was an amazing moment, and you couldn't see any borders, you couldn't see any signs of wars, none of those troubles that you hear about on the news everyday. It was just pure peace and beauty."

Maybe now that she has literally gained a different perspective on the world, and has had a first hand impression of how beautiful the world can become, she can see herself as we see her. That she can now use her newfound fame, and more than ample fortune, to speak smartly out against oppression and stupidity, and to actively do those things that only people like her can do, for the world she has seen anew. Those things which most people are not fortunate or notorious enough to do.

One thing we all know for certain is that through luck, fate, or destiny, Anousheh has the grace, courage and will for a literally godlike ascension to the heavens. Let us hope and pray that she has also gained insight that compassion and responsible stewardship comes with being a supernatural being.

Welcome back Anousheh!

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Behrouz Bahmani

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