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.