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First female 'space tourist' ready for blastoff

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- If all goes according to plan, Anousheh Ansari will realize a life-long dream and ride a Russian rocket into space Monday.

As the fourth space tourist, the Iranian-born American also will become the first woman to pay her way into space, and the first person of Iranian descent to get there.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Ansari told us she knows people will be watching - a belief confirmed by the comments posted on her blog, Anshari prepare for her lifelong dream -- 2:42)

"Me being the first female has inspired a lot of women and girls in Iran, especially being Iranian, and Iıve received numerous e-mails, messages of different sorts saying how proud of me they are."

Ansari's biography reads a like the American dream.

She left Iran at the age of 16 just a few years after the Islamic Revolution, in part because her family wanted her to pursue her passion for the sciences to the fullest extent possible.

When she arrived, she knew next to no English except for a few verses from the song "My Favorite Things," from the film "The Sound of Music."

But within the next several years, Ansari had taught herself English, earned a university degree and landed a job at MCI earning just over $26,000. There she met her husband. Soon, she and her husband quit their jobs at MCI, cashed in their retirement savings, and ran up their credit cards to finance a telecommunications company they opened.

In 2000, she and her husband sold that company for more than half-a-billion dollars to Sonus Networks Inc. A year later, Fortune Magazine estimated her personal wealth at about $180 million dollars. The stock price of Sonus has since plummeted, and Ansari is being sued for insider trading.

The Ansaris declined to comment on the lawsuit, other than to note that she is no longer a Sonus officer, according to The Associated Press.

No ordinary sightseer

She's contractually barred from saying how much she's paying for her seat, but indicated that it's similar to the estimated $20 million dollars the three space tourists before her reportedly paid.

When we sat down with her, she was wearing the uniform she will wear in space, including a badge studded with both the Stars and Stripes, and the Iranian flag. At a time when American-Iranian relations are in crisis, she said she doesn't want to make any political statements, but believes there's no reason why Americans and Iranians can't get along.

"I hope this shows that the people can be separated from the politics because if you donıt have ... if you look at Iranians interacting with Americans, ­sometimes inside Iran, sometimes outside Iran, in most cases from what Iıve seen itıs always a pleasant experience. If we would not have to have government fighting all the time when people are together they seem to get along perfectly fine. Itıs only when territorial issues and energy issues come into play that the power struggles lead into political statements and wars."

Ansari has been through a dizzying six months of training in Russia.

On the centrifuge more than once, she sings "My Favorite Things" and does math problems in her head to keep herself from getting sick. She will have a "barf bag" with her in the Russian space suit when she takes off.

She's also learned Russian, a great deal about the Soyuz module that will taxi her to and from the international space station, and the life support systems.

"I may not have received all the trainings, but the ones that I did receive basically taught me about the different systems on board the station, and on the Soyuz, and what are the principles of working basics, and how they operate, and also they taught me how to use them. Some of them I may never even see or come close to, but, nevertheless, I was trained on them, and that was very fulfilling because I didnıt just feel like I was here for 6 months learning English, I mean learning Russian and basically this is this system, but donıt touch it."

The extensive preparation she's been through is one reason why she dislikes the term "space tourist."

"I think tourists are people who basically decide to go to some place and put a camera around their neck, and basically buy a ticket and go there. They donıt prepare. ...They donıt go through a lot of preparations. I spent six months here, and had to learn many different systems, and many new different technologies to take this journey, so I donıt think tourism [does] justice to this event."

Ansari has invested heavily into her fascination with space. She and another relative put up a significant portion of the $10 million reward for the winner of the Ansari X Prize. The X Prize was awarded to the first private company to build a rocket capable of two manned suborbital flights.

She is also helping to develop a fleet of suborbital spacecraft -- something she hopes will bring the price down for everyone.

Ansari wasn't supposed to go the space station this year, but last month a would-be Japanese tourist was disqualified from the flight for undisclosed medical reasons, and Ansari replaced him.

That meant lots of last minute changes to the Soyuz spacecraft and gear. Russian engineers had to modify the seat, toilet and spacesuit to fit a woman.

But now everything is ready to go and so is Ansari.

"The only thing I hope is that I donıt catch a cold and get disqualified. Iım pretty comfortable, and actually have no fear at this time. Iım just, the only feeling I have is excitement," she said before she left for two weeks of quarantine at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

On Sunday, she was given a clean bill of health.

During her flight she will continue her blog -- a vehicle for the message she wants to direct to young girls around the world (especially in Iran) that they can do anything they want to if they dare to dream and follow their dreams.

She's also looking forward to fulfilling her own childhood dream -- a dream born on her balcony in Tehran when she was a little girl gazing at the stars -- to look back at the earth against the black backdrop of outer space.

From CNN's Ryan Chilcote.

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