On Monday, telecom entrepreneur and X-Prize Foundation trustee Anousheh Ansari became the world’s first female space tourist when she launched into orbit aboard a Soyuz TMA spacecraft headed for the International Space Station. She’s also one of just four private citizens of both sexes ever to hitch a ride to the cosmos. Why the small number? Well, the price is prohibitive, of course, but bucks alone won’t get you a ticket—there’s a waiting list to clear, health requirements to meet, and six months of training to ace before you’re allowed to hang out at ISS with the cool kids from NASA. Ansari cleared all the hurdles, saying she hopes her journey will inspire girls—especially those from her native Iran—to study science.
So far, Space Adventures, the group that launched Ansari and fellow space rookies Dennis Tito, Mark Shuttleworth and Gregory Olsen, is the only tourism company sending random rich folks into orbit, but plans are underway to have Richard Branson’s much-ballyhooed venture, Virgin Galactic, up and running by 2007. Ansari is reported to have paid about $20 million for her journey to the Space Station (twice the amount of the 2004 purse for the Ansari X-Prize Cup), but Virgin Galactic will offer flights for the low, low price of £100,000 (about $188,000). The cost difference is probably due to the fact that the space-station trip is a 10-day affair, while Virgin’s flights will last just three hours.
If Branson’s plan runs according to schedule, Ansari won’t be the only female tourist in space for long. A host of other would-be rocket divas including Angelina Jolie and Sigourney Weaver have sent down payments to Virgin for the opportunity to leave Earth’s atmosphere. Just one caveat, ladies: a couple months back, Virgin Galactic representative Will Whitehorn said that breast implants "might well explode" if subjected to the G-forces of takeoff. Mythbusters supposedly debunked that rumor, but no one has tested it yet in actual space. What I want to know is, which enhanced celeb is gonna be first to find out what happens? Whaddya say Pam Anderson—you're the adventurous type. Want to step up and set a space record? —Megan Miller