CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - A U.S. entrepreneur making history as the world's first female space tourist said hello to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) early Tuesday while she and two professional spaceflyers continued their trek towards the orbital laboratory.
"Hello everyone, I look forward to seeing you on the station," said Anousheh Ansari, who is riding aboard a Russian-built Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraft with the station's next crew.
"We look forward to welcoming you all onboard," ISS Expedition 13 flight engineer Jeffrey Williams replied.
The call came during a rare conference call between three manned spacecraft circling the Earth. In addition to the Soyuz ferrying Ansari and two Expedition 14 astronauts to the ISS, three astronauts currently live aboard the space station itself while six others are on their way back to Earth aboard NASA's Atlantis shuttle.
"I know we have a lot to learn from all of them, and we look forward to our time together especially having Anousheh onboard," Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, who is riding aboard the Soyuz with Ansari and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin, told the Atlantis crew of Expedition 13. "It's too bad the Atlantis crew won't get to meet her, but maybe some time in the future."
Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin are relieving Williams and Expedition 13 commander Pavel Vinogradov, who have lived aboard the ISS since their April arrival. The two Expedition 14 astronauts will welcome current Expedition 13 flight engineer Thomas Reiter, of the European Space Agency, into their ranks, though Williams, Vinogradov and Ansari are scheduled to return to Earth on Sept. 28.
Ansari is the fourth paying visitor to the ISS and will spend nine days in space on a trip brokered with Russia's Federal Space Agency by the Virginia-based firm Space Adventures. A long-time advocate of private spaceflight, Ansari served as a backup for Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto, who was paying an estimated $20 million for a trek to the ISS before failing a final preflight medical check.
"I think it's great," said Atlantis astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper, the only female member of the shuttle's STS-115 crew, of Ansari's spaceflight in a space-to-ground television interview after the spacecraft conference call. "I don't think there's anything, you know, about being a space tourist or astronaut. If the guys can do it, we can do it too."
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