Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Iranian space buffs gather for a brief glimpse of Soyuz


Dozens of space travel enthusiasts, most of them women, burst into applause at dawn at an observatory near the capital as the spacecraft carrying the first Iranian woman to travel into space appeared in the sky.

Space tourist Anousheh Ansari, who began her journey into space last Monday aboard a Soyuz TMA-9 capsule from Baikonur, Kazakhastan, has become an inspiration to women in male-dominated Iran.

Space enthusiasts who had gathered on Saturday at the Zaferanieh Observatory in Tehran were rapt as they followed the progress of the craft, visible to the naked eye for about two minutes, as it streaked across the sky.

"Anousheh is my hope," said teenager Delagah Dadbeh, watching the spacecraft as tears of joy rolled down her cheek.

"She will shine in Iranian history as a woman who broke barriers and succeeded in conquering space with her endeavor," Dadbeh said.

"Ansari has shown Iranian women the road to progress. We only need to believe in ourselves," Dadbeh said, as another woman, Homa Parvaei, nodded in agreement.

Ansari, the world's first paying female space tourist left Iran with her family a few years after the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the pro-US Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and brought hardline clerics to power. One of the reasons the family left Iran was that the opportunities for a young girl to study science were becoming limited.

Ansari has said she is eager to see Iran from space and hopes to inspire girls in her homeland to study science. Ansari says she has received e-mail messages from many of them.

Iran's state-run media has briefly mentioned Ansari's voyage.

But some hardline media criticized state television for even this, dismissing Ansari as a "wealthy woman."

The Iranian Space Agency was the only government-run body to congratulate Ansari on her achievement.

Ansari, 40, is a telecommunications entrepreneur. She is the fourth private astronaut to pay a reported US$20 million for a space station visit. She joined a Russian cosmonaut and a US astronaut for the trip. She is due to return to Earth on Friday.

Hardline clerics in Iran have banned women from running in presidential elections and believe that a woman's sole role is in the home.

"The best identity for women is shaped within the family," said Zohreh Tabibzadeh, who heads a state-run women's center. Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed her to the post.

Under the strict interpretation of Islamic law applied in Iran, men may marry up to four wives at the same time, a right not granted to women. To work or travel abroad, a woman needs the permission of her husband or father. But Iranian women enjoy more political rights than women in some neighboring countries.

Under reformist former President Mohammad Khatami there was a loosening of restrictions on social freedoms that benefited women.

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