Sunday, September 17, 2006 - First female 'space tourist'�ready for blastoff - Sep 17, 2006 - First female 'space tourist'�ready for blastoff - Sep 17, 2006

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 I¹ve 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.

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