Paul Jacob

When isn't a 20-million-dollar-paying client "always right"? When the seller is the government.

Anousheh Ansari is on the ground again, and yet I'm afraid I'm still thinking as much about the lift-off scandal as her triumphant return to Earth.

You see, on September 18, Anousheh Ansari became one of that select breed, the paid-in-full space tourist, launched to take a working vacation on the International Space Station.

It was a life-long dream for Mrs. Ansari, and a watershed moment for women in space . . . and for Iranians. Ansari has lived in the U.S. all her adult life, but had wanted to make a gesture towards the liberalizers in the land where she was born. So she designed a special badge to put on her suit. It featured the visual theme of a past, pre-revolutionary flag of Iran.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government pointedly asked Mrs. Ansari not to affix this design to her suit. (Jeez, she pays $20 million and gets a cashier with attitude.) The Russians, who run the space tourism program using their Soyuz rockets, relayed that message clearly, or so I gather from competing accounts.

And yes, this particular space tourist got a lot of coverage. Because she's a woman. Because she and her husband were successful in business, having sold their software company for half a billion. And because she was born Iranian. Indeed, Iran's newspapers covered the launch, even though Anousheh is not exactly the cloth-covered ideal preferred by Iran's current rulers.

Iranian editorials took the opportunity of this Iranian flag issue as an excuse to rile up anti-American feeling. Sad.

What's not sad is the new cosmonaut, though. She's all smiles. She's trained hard. And no, her commitment to space travel is not fly-by-night. She, her husband Hamid, and brother-in-law Amir, had financially supported the X Prize, awarded two years ago to Burt Rutan's Spaceship One for proving the feasibility of a private, re-usable spacecraft.

And for further tech credit, she became the Internet's first blogger from outer space. She blogged on the X Prize site, which became something of an immediate hit. (See, bloggers, what it takes to get to the top of the Internet hit parade?)

Her mere presence as a successful Iranian-born businesswoman in space had the potential to relieve West-East tensions. But, predictably, American and Russian muckety-mucks nixed her best gesture.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.