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Anousheh Ansari and Peter Diamandis
Anousheh Ansari, the newly named CEO of XPRIZE, comes on stage with co-founder Peter Diamandis at an XPRIZE Visioneering Summit in Los Angeles. (XPRIZE via Twitter)

In 2004, Iranian-American entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari helped fund the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight. In 2006, she traveled to the International Space Station, becoming the first Muslim woman to go into orbit. Now she’s playing a leading role in the XPRIZE saga once again as the California-based foundation’s CEO.

Ansari’s ascension to executive leadership was announced today during the annual XPRIZE Visioneering Summit in Los Angeles, where 10 teams are vying for a chance to have their ideas turned into multimillion-dollar technological challenges.

“As I take on the helm at XPRIZE, I feel the same exhilaration as I did the day I was sitting in my capsule atop of my Russian Soyuz rocket – waiting impatiently to be launched into the infinity of the universe that I had dreamed about as a child, and in nervous anticipation of the enormous possibilities in front of me,” Ansari, 52, said in a news release.

Ansari takes over from XPRIZE co-founder Peter Diamandis, who’ll continue in his role as executive chairman.

“The XPRIZE model of crowdsourcing innovation is as important as ever, as increased access to exponential technologies is truly democratizing the ability for anyone to solve today’s most pressing issues,” Diamandis said. “I have tremendous confidence in Anousheh to help lead XPRIZE during its next stage of evolution.”

The Ansari X Prize was the foundation’s first incentive-prize venture – proposed by Diamandis in 1995, and won in 2004 by the team behind the SpaceShipOne rocket plane with backing from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The Ansari family contributed the cash required to buy a “hole-in-one” insurance policy that paid out the $10 million.

Since then, XPRIZE has organized a series of sponsored competitions, focusing on technologies ranging from super-efficient automobiles to “Star Trek”-inspired medical tricorders and wearable safety devices. Its biggest challenge, the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, expired this year without a big winner.

Ansari and other family members made their first fortune with Telecom Technologies. Since 2006, she has been CEO of Prodea Systems, a Texas-based technology firm specializing in the Internet of Things. She’ll continue to serve as Prodea’s executive chairwoman.

Her 11-day trip to the space station in 2006 was arranged through Space Adventures, which has sent six other individuals into orbit. (Seattle-area software pioneer Charles Simonyi went twice, in 2007 and 2009.)

Ansari has long served on XPRIZE’s board of directors. She’s also a co-founder of The Billion Dollar Fund for Women, which aims to invest $1 billion in women-founded companies by 2020. Her autobiography, titled “My Dream of Stars: From Daughter of Iran to Space Pioneer,” was published in 2010.

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