Guy Laliberte’s Poetic Social Mission
PART 2: “Training Kicks Up a Notch”


Six years ago, on September 30, 2009, a civilian became a spaceflight participant aboard Soyuz TMA-16, a manned flight from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Joining two members of the Expedition 21 crew – Russian cosmonaut Maksim Surayev (Commander, from the Russian Federal Space Agency, FSA) and NASA Astronaut Jeffery Williams (Flight Engineer) – was Guy Laliberté, who paid approximately $35 million USD for his seat through the American firm Space Adventures, becoming the first Canadian space tourist in the process. Besides fulfilling a life-long dream, Laliberté’s spaceflight was dedicated to raising awareness on water issues facing humankind on planet Earth, making his spaceflight the first – in his words – “poetic social mission” in space. And much of this experience was captured on film and recently spun into a feature-length documentary entitled TOUCH THE SKY. While the documentary is a compelling visual look into the experience, the adventure was also captured by Laliberté himself in the form of an online journal.

At the time these events were originally taking place, we here at Fascination were more concerned with the happenings here on Earth – with BELIEVE, ZAIA, ZED, OVO, VIVA ELVIS, and BANANA SHPEEL – so we didn’t give much thought to this endeavor. However, thanks to the recently discovered documentary (the aforementioned TOUCH THE SKY), we recently re-discovered a text-copy of this journal in our archives, which allows us to explore this extraordinary time in Cirque du Soleil’s history in more detail. Thus in this series we’ll be taking a look back at Guy’s Poetic Social Mission through his eyes, from the journal, in monthly installments, taking you through the initial steps Guy undertook all the way through to the launch and landing. Last month we looked at the first steps in Guy’s adventure in “The Countdown Begins”. Now we continue our adventure as Guy gets settled in, passes a few tests, and continues his accelerated training routine…


POST 9 | DAY 47 – June 04, 2009

The Canadian and Russian space agencies hosted a simulcast press conference from Saint-Hubert, in Canada and Star City, in Russia to announce that Guy Laliberté–Founder of Cirque du Soleil and the ONE DROP Foundation had begun training for a groundbreaking visit to the International Space Station (ISS): a Poetic Social Mission in Space on behalf of the ONE DROP Foundation and its dream of “Water for all, all for water.”

Speaking from the Yuri Gagarin Russian State Science Research Cosmonauts Training Centre located in Star City, Laliberté explained his mission to media in both countries. His mission in space will include the sharing of information about water-related issues with the world. Messages transmitted from the ISS will also raise awareness of the goals pursued by ONE DROP.

While Laliberté’s 12-day stay aboard the ISS will mark the first social/humanitarian mission in space, he will become Canada’s first private explorer to visit the Station. The Soyuz TMA-16 rocket that will carry Laliberté and Expedition 21 crew members to the ISS is scheduled for launch September 30, 2009.

* * *

POST 10 | DAY 51 – June 08, 2009

Today I’m announcing my Poetic Social Mission, and everyone’s really excited! Despite the intense Moscow traffic that’s slowing us down, preparations are moving along nicely. This supposedly short trip of just a few kilometres seems to take an eternity and my adrenalin is starting to pump.

I have to stay back in another room before the conference starts, so I’m pleasantly surprised to see that the press hall is pretty full when I come in. Cameras, correspondents from major news organizations, hardly an empty seat in sight—it’s more than I was expecting! Once seated, I realize that I can see the live press conference feed in St. Hubert and it seems like a full house over there. I have a brief moment of anxiety, but it passes. I just want to make sure I get my message across and don’t forget anything—there’s so much to say! But everything goes fine and, by the end, I feel the mission has been accomplished.

After the conference, I have some one-on-one interviews, photo sessions and a satellite conference with St. Hubert—ten whirlwind hours, but absolutely gratifying! Later, Renée-Claude Ménard (my Senior Public Relations Director) and I eagerly hook up to the Internet on my computer to find out how the news is going down. Overall, the comments seem to be going the way we had hoped, and we’re proud that we managed to get our message across.

After talking it over, my team and I come to the conclusion that it’s the best press coverage Cirque du Soleil has had in its 25 years! In terms of publicity, has this set the bar for the launch of our next show???

Of course, after a day like today, forget about sleeping! It isn’t until after 5:00 a.m. that my eyes finally close for a few hours of rest and some bizarre dreams about rocket ships. 😛

The next day (Friday, June 5th) is another big day, and I continue to receive lots of positive feedback. When we got to Moscow on Wednesday (June 3rd), I promised that we’d all go to a traditional Russian sauna if everything went well at the press conference. So, a few members of the Space Adventures-Russia team, my commander Maxim, my astronaut friend Scott and I head out to the banya.

The banya is a wet sauna in which you smack yourself (not too hard!) with a venik (a ‘bouquet’ of birch branches and leaves) to improve your blood circulation. When the heat gets too intense, you get under a cold shower for a little thermal shock. It’s quite a jolt, but the alternation of hot and cold is highly beneficial—it rids the body of toxins.

After about two hours in the banya, we hang around for a very nice supper washed down with just a smidgen of vodka—as Russian tradition dictates! It’s a well-deserved celebration in the company of veteran space adventurers spinning their far-out tales.

I spend Saturday and Sunday in my hotel room coming back down to earth—watching movies, getting on top of some business, catching up on my email and listening to music. Ahh. . . so relaxing!

As I write this, it is Sunday evening and I’m back in Star City, ready for four days of training before I return to see my family on Thursday and join the celebrations for the 25th anniversary of Cirque du Soleil. I can’t wait!

* * *

POST 11 | DAY 54 – June 11, 2009

After meeting my commander, Maxim, I had the pleasure of getting to know my engineer, American astronaut Jeffrey Williams. In fact, the day before I left Russia (on June 10), Jeffrey was having a little dinner party at his Star City cottage, so I went over to say hello. We had time to chat for about 15 minutes before a thunderstorm came crashing down—there must have been something in the air! So we each went back to our own affairs: Jeffrey to his guests, and I to my conference calls with Montreal.

On June 11, in addition to my training, I had an exam on the Soyuz TMA communication system. To be sure to ace the exam, Barbara and I studied under the shade of a tree before heading off to class. When I got the results, I felt as proud as when I passed a math test in high school!

And then we were off! We took all of our bags and jumped into the car, en route to the airport. As usual, the traffic was heavy, so our driver drove on the shoulder to make sure we got there in time for take-off. Wow, what a rush!

* * *

POST 12 | DAY 64 – June 21, 2009

Back to the office. Talking about the direction for the poem with my old pal Claude Péloquin. He shares a few awe-inspiring lines with me. Claude has been inundated by media requests since June 4th, and he tells me that some of his old girlfriends have got in touch to tell him he’s still pretty cool!

On June 11, we landed late in Montreal, but my fatigue was soon replaced by joy when I saw my children and my love. . . and then got to sleep in my own bed! I dozed off while mentally preparing for the crazy week ahead.

The next morning was a whirlwind of meetings: a presentation on production concepts; a meeting with Claude Péloquin, the poet who is helping me write the poem for my mission; a project follow-up with my whole team; and so on. It was like an obstacle course where I had to run from one meeting to another, not to mention personal appointments (dentist, osteopath, etc.)!

The highlight of my day was the surprise the staff at CDS (Cirque du Soleil) headquarters had prepared for me to mark our 25th anniversary. Forming a guard of honour, they escorted me as I revisited my cirque and its history. I was deeply moved and so happy to see everyone’s support. This was followed by a party, where everyone celebrated heartily (like true Cirquesters)!

On the weekend, it was a whole other kind of celebration with some adorable little monsters: my children! My family and I went to see OVO and then on to the fireworks; I dropped my oldest daughter off at her prom and went to see my other daughter’s dance show—things that feel good and leave me filled with love and pride.

Another highlight this week was my trip to Gaspé. The Quebec spirit was instantly palpable: I felt right at home. I’ve always said that there should be more clown noses in life. . . and now, some 1,500 of them were all around me! It was heart-warming. I got goose bumps. They were really great.

That same day (June 16, the official birthday of Cirque du Soleil), I hopped onto a plane to get back to CDS headquarters, strap on my stilts and join my group for the Guinness World Record attempt at the most people walking 100 metres on stilts. As the old saying goes, the more the merrier!

On Wednesday, it was my love’s birthday. We took the kids downtown to watch her model at the Montreal Fashion and Design Festival. Man, she is so beautiful (and so many other things, too). I love her so much! Then we went to the No Doubt concert and took full advantage of our night out together. I was so happy to be there on this special day.

On Thursday, it was my night out with the boys for a poker game! I don’t know if this will be the last one before my blast-off, but either way, I enjoyed every minute of it! It’s not just about the game itself; it’s the whole feeling of camaraderie that I like.

On Friday, I watched old Super 8 movies with my parents and my oldest daughter. It’s so special to see yourself as a little boy and hear your parents’ stories about your childhood. It was a magical moment that made me realize just how lucky I am to have them. During the week, I spoke to my friend Julie Payette just one hour after her take-off was cancelled. She’s such a great gal. She is so generous with her time and advice. I really value her support. She told me about her feelings and how happy she was to be able to see and kiss her children again. I invited her over for a family dinner.

On Saturday, I was sad to have to leave my cocoon, but happy to be getting back to work on my mission. Claudia and I had some friends over for a formal birthday celebration for her and our baby as well as for Father’s Day. The kids loved it, and it gave me the opportunity to see my friends again before taking off.
Before leaving, I wanted to send a message to my people—the people of Quebec—to tell them how much I love them and thank them for all the support and encouragement they have given me in my life and especially this week. So I wrote them a little letter.

Sniff, sniff. . . A few hours later, it was time to head back to Moscow: time flies when you’re having fun!

Now I’m back in my little room in Star City with framed pictures, carefully wrapped and packed in my luggage, of my sweetheart and my children.

* * *

POST 13 | DAY 87 – June 23, 2009

This is my living room / office, where I set up my work station. The computer on the right is for my music—I organize my songs on iTunes to relax. I also use it to keep in touch with the media back home in Montreal (newspapers, newscasts, etc.). I use the one in the middle to catalogue my photos and my Dictaphone recordings. And finally, I use the computer on the left to stay in touch with my loved ones and people from work through Skype… and for playing poker and watching DVDs whenever I get the chance!

I realize that I never did give you the grand tour of my humble abode in Star City (the equivalent of a large 3 ½ i.e. about 600 square feet)! Check out the pictures above. Come on in!

* * *

POST 14 | DAY 88 – June 24, 2009

I really like this logo, especially the fact that it was designed by a child. I’m also very appreciative that it incorporates the water drop symbol for my ONE DROP Foundation.

The FSA, Russia’s Federal Space Agency, has confirmed the logo of the TMA-16 mission that will be flying me into space! The tradition is for children to submit their designs for selection. For the TMA-16, the winning entry was from Nastya Mestyashova, a 14-year-old girl from the Orenburg region of Russia.

The central motif of the emblem is a cosmonaut with three big stars (a dark blue one for Jeffrey Williams of NASA, a light blue one for me and a red one for Maxim Surayev). The flags of our three countries are also represented.

The designs at the top right of the logo represent the Universe and life on Earth. The cradle of mankind, the mission’s origin, is represented by a plant that gradually transforms into the rocket contrail and then into the spaceship itself as it heads off to the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is evoked in the logo by a nine-pointed golden star, which references the nine crew members who will be on board the station once TMA-16 docks with it.

The plant and the rocket contrail combine to form the number 16, which is the number of our mission. In the background, the Earth is shown with the typical grid lines used in previous Soviet and Russian logos, to commemorate erstwhile heroes on Vostok, Voshkod and Soyuz flights.

There is a Roscosmos symbol at the top of the globe, amid the organizations responsible for the flight and as a nod to Commander Surayev. The names Williams and Laliberté are accompanied by the logos of NASA and the ONE DROP Foundation. There is also a little red star and a little blue one for the safe return of Maxim and Jeffrey, who will be coming back to Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-16, but only in March 2010.

Maxim Surayev, it should be noted, also had a hand in designing this logo.

* * *

POST 15 | DAY 89 – June 25, 2009

On my return to Star City on Sunday, June 21, I received a somewhat unexpected ‘welcome back’ gift… Looking at my schedule for the week, I noticed that I would be doing nine to twelve hours of studying and training each day! Was this payback for the week off I’d spent in Montreal? 😛

Early the next morning, I unpacked and prepared myself mentally for the week ahead. My day started with the EGN, where I learned about the basics of personal hygiene in space (toiletries, clothing, etc.) and chose my wardrobe for my stay in the Station.

In space, I will have:

  • My flight suit
  • Three pairs of socks
  • Three pairs of underwear
  • One polo shirt
  • One pair of short pants
  • Looking at this array of very trendy clothes, I was no closer to finding an answer to my question of whether it would be cold as a Montreal winter or hot as a Hawaiian beach up there.

    Next came my Russian class, where I felt my good humour wane a little—was this my week in Montreal catching up with me or fatigue with the upcoming trip? I don’t know, but the fact is that I lost patience with learning yet more Russian verbs and conjugations rather than words that might actually be useful to me in space! The program seems to be designed for learning Russian over a longer period than the five short months I have. I would have preferred to simply be able to read what it says on my food containers (so I don’t have to ask my commander every time) and know some basic words that I could use to make myself understood if necessary. Oh well, it’s the only thing on my schedule that I find hard and a little frustrating.

    After my long day at school, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a first draft of the poem by Claude Péloquin. Water seems to inspire him as much as it does me—it’s such a powerful symbol! Without water, there is no life. No birth; only death. Water is to life what blood is to human beings. Thinking it over, I realized that without water, there wouldn’t be blood either. My creative cells were still firing on all cylinders when it was time for bed!

    * * *

    POST 16 | DAY 90 – June 26, 2009

    I spent the morning of June 23 reading and learning all about docking systems; it was great, I felt like a little kid in a candy store!

    This part of the course explained the docking of the Soyuz at the International Space Station (ISS). Everything is done automatically and I won’t have to lift a finger, but I attended for my own personal understanding. The backup system is manual and will be handled by Maxim and Jeffrey.

    Then it was time for my class on the life support system, which is one of the most important things I have to learn. We studied the oxygenation system, then how to take care of personal hygiene requirements in space, how to use the space suit, etc.

    It was pretty riveting, important stuff, and the teaching manual for this part has the most pages. It’s far from being relaxing bedtime reading, but I’m covering a lot of fascinating material.

    At the end of my study day, I had a Skype meeting with Claude Péloquin and Fernand Rainville. Fernand is the co-director of the poetic event for my Social Mission in space. He’s a good guy who worked on our Wintuk show in New York. He also co-directed Saka, my friend Gilles Ste-Croix’s equestrian show. Furthermore, he directed AQUA, a sensory experience created by the ONE DROP Foundation to raise public awareness regarding water-related issues and inspire people to commit to the cause. He is therefore a well-integrated member of the Cirque du Soleil creative family and of the Foundation. It was an excellent brainstorming session, and we set up another meeting for next week.

    The next morning (June 24), I woke up feeling a little nostalgic. It was Saint-Jean Baptiste Day, the national holiday of Quebecers, and here I was in Russia. I would have liked to be in Quebec, especially since I read in the media that it was pretty fun.

    My day was mainly spent finalizing the meals I would be taking in space, based on tastings that were done before I left for Montreal.

    * * *

    POST 17 | DAY 91 – June 27, 2009

    We are starting to learn really important stuff, like the theory of how the space suit works and how to use it, for instance how to secure it in an emergency, depending on whether we’re landing in water or on terra firma. I’m paying very close attention not only because this is essential knowledge, but also because I find it absolutely fascinating.

    In the early evening of June 25, I had a phone conference with everyone on the Mission team. We hold a meeting once a week to make sure everything is going as planned. For instance, we discuss the payload, the launch, preparations, our (very tight) deadlines, and so on.

    The following day would be the last day of the school week! Hooray! I couldn’t wait to get to Ibiza, where I was going to spend the weekend with my love and our kids. I was also taking along the members of my crew for a change of scenery, and we were all ecstatic in anticipation of seeing the sun again!

    After my turn on the flight simulator, we set off in a hurry so we’d get to Ibiza as soon as possible!

    * * *

    POST 18 | DAY 94 – June 30, 2009

    Friday, we arrived in Ibiza in late evening, in time for supper. This made me really happy, because I was able to see my kids, who were still up (as was my love!). I was finally taking my first real days off since arriving in Russia on May 10, and I planned to enjoy them to the hilt!

    Saturday morning, I was still in my routine of 4–5 hours of sleep a night, so I got up before everyone else and swam a few laps in the pool to stay in shape. I find that my program doesn’t include enough time for working out. All the astronauts and cosmonauts I’ve spoken to have emphasized the importance of being in shape to facilitate the body’s adaptation to weightlessness. I therefore decided to work at it myself—and in a place like Ibiza, it hardly feels like work at all!

    During the day, we went to the hippie market, which has been around for some 30 years and is full of artists and craftspeople. I felt like I was reliving my travel adventures of the 1970s.

    We ate very well the entire weekend, thanks to my two excellent chefs (hard on the waistline, though)! The weekend wrapped up with a great Argentinean barbecue and a few bottles of good wine. I left my family with a heavy heart, but nevertheless stimulated by the thought of continuing my adventure.

    # # #


    Next month we’ll continue with “Getting My Hands Dirty” (July 2009), “From Training to Reality” (August 2009), “T-30 Days and Counting! (September 2009, Pt 1), “Departure for Baikonur” (September 2009, Pt 2), “Moving Stars and Earth for Water” (On Orbit), and finishing up with “Back on Earth – Mission Success!”

    Stay tuned!