Guy Laliberte’s Poetic Social Mission
PART 7: “Moving Stars and Earth”


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. In Part 1, “The Countdown Begins” we listened as Guy took us through his first steps. In Part 2, “Training Kicks Up a Notch”, Guy got settled in, and passed a few essential tests. In Part 3, “Getting My Hands Dirty”, Guy gets down into the nuts and bolts of his training. In Part 4, “From Training to Reality”, Guy gets a bit more hands on with the actual equipment he’ll be flying in. In Part 5, “T-30 Days and Counting”, Guy rushes to complete his training with only a few precious days remaining until lift-off. In Part 6, “Departure for Baikonur”, we finished out September’s logs with Guy’s departure to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russia’s launch facilities located in the desert steppe of Kazakhstan, and the day before his launch into space. And now we continue with looking at the event itself – “Moving Stars and Earth for Water” – the meaning behind Guy’s Poetic Social Mission to space.



“Guy Laliberté will bring an innovative and creative perspective to the crew of Expedition 21,” said Mr. Alexey Krasnov, Head of Human Space Flight of FSA, in the initial Press Release on June 4, 2009. “We believe that the objective of his Poetic Social Mission to raise awareness of water issues facing the world is part of what space exploration needs to do. We welcome him as a team member and will offer all the support he needs to achieve his mission. We are also very impressed with the humanitarian objectives of the ONE DROP Foundation, founded by Guy Laliberté.” With the theme Water for all, all for water, it wishes to raise awareness to water issues in the world, ensure that access to clean water is available to all and putting in place education programs using art. “The strong humanitarian values put forward by ONE DROP Foundation and Guy [is] shared by the FSA”.

“I have been described as many things throughout my 25 years with Cirque du Soleil. Fire-breather, entrepreneur, street smart, creative,” says Laliberté. “I am honored and humbled today with my new job description: humanitarian space explorer. Traveling has always been my way of life and I have been researching the possibilities of space travel with Space Adventures Ltd since 2004. But I needed it to be the right time and for the right purpose. This is the time. And the purpose is clear: to raise awareness on water issues to humankind on planet earth. My mission is dedicated to making a difference on this vital resource by using what I know best: artistry. This will be the first poetic social mission in space. This is also a very symbolic time for me to join my colleagues of Expedition 21 at Star City since, after 25 years, this is the year that Cirque du Soleil will be introduced to Russia after so many years! The timing could not be most appropriate!”

During his 12-day stay at the ISS, Guy Laliberté’s POETIC SOCIAL MISSION will share information about water issues in the world through a singular poetic approach. The messages he transmits will raise awareness for ONE DROP Foundation initiatives that promote Water for all, all for water. The Canadian Space Agency salutes Guy Laliberté’s initiative as Canada’s first private space explorer. The agency will advise Laliberté and he will meet with Canadian astronaut Dr. Robert Thirsk while at ISS. “Canada’s leadership role in space exploration is at the forefront of our mandate,” said Dr. Steve MacLean, president of the Canadian Space Agency. “This humanitarian mission, imagined by a leading entrepreneur and artist, demonstrates the talent, imagination and dedication that Canadians are recognized for worldwide.”

Eric Anderson, President and CEO of Space Adventures Ltd. added, “I have known Guy for many years and is a member of our Orbital Mission Explorers Circle. His approach to his first spaceflight was always original. Since our first discussions in 2004, he has wanted to travel in space for a purpose and to express his unique vision. I believe that his Poetic Social Mission truly realizes his intentions and we are proud to be able to help him to make it a reality.”


While Mr. Laliberte trained at the Yuri A. Gagarin State Scientific Research-and-Testing Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City Russia (as we’ve been reading), much of the purpose of his spaceflight – besides his initial statements – remained unknown, until the morning of September 2, 2009 – just 28 days before launch – when the artistic concept behind the poetic social mission was unveiled:

For 120 minutes, the earth will gaze up at the stars and resonate to the rhythms of artists and world-renowned figures who will demonstrate their commitment to water, and pay tribute to this vitally important natural resource. Each city will have its own theme related to water. The participants will either take part in the event either by reading parts of a poem, performing, or sharing an artistic work.

“During the past 25 years, my travels on earth have allowed me to meet extraordinary people: artists, leaders and friends,” continued Guy Laliberté. “I am deeply touched that they have accepted to contribute their voices, their talent and their creativity to my artistic project. They have done so because they share my concerns about water and my belief that through art and emotion we can convey a universal message.”

“When I decided to join Expedition 21, I knew there would be an artistic component to my mission,” said Guy Laliberté. “I am an artist, not a scientist, so it was my duty to contribute in my own way. On the very first day of my training, I began to reflect on my artistic approach. The inspiration came from tales and children’s dreams. I decided that the artistic framework of our global event would be a poetic tale. My wish is to touch people through an artistic approach and if we manage to do so, we will go beyond awareness.”

“During my training and preparation for this flight, I have found that many in the international space community share my concerns about water and support my project,” said Guy. “They understood my intentions and they also agree that using an artistic language will allow us to reach not only the interested space community, but the people who are not ordinarily interested by activities in space. I want to thank them for their genuine openness and understanding. Their support is invaluable to me because it confirms that even if there are six billion of us, we can work together toward a common goal and change the world… one step at a time, one drop at a time.”


Under the theme Moving Stars and Earth for Water, the Poetic Social Mission was a special two-hour program that raises awareness about the issues of water in the world today from a variety of perspectives. October 9, 2009 at 8:00 pm. EDT (GMT-4) in 14 cities around the world – in Montreal, Moscow, Santa Monica, New York City, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Marrakesh, Sydney, Tokyo, Tampa, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, London and the International Space Station – this live event was presented around the world by a global community of artists representing all cultures and creative disciplines and well known personalities. Celebrated around the planet, the artists are singers, actors, filmmakers, photographers, dancers, acrobats, poets, etc. What they all have in common is a concern regarding access to water and a desire to illustrate this in their own distinctive way. The artistic core of the show was a poetic tale written especially for the occasion by renowned novelist and Man-Booker Prize-winner Yann Martel. The tale was gradually revealed as the program took us through 14 cities around the world on a journey that began in Montreal and ends in Moscow.

The Opening — From the International Space Station (ISS), Guy Laliberté presents the Poetic Social Mission: artists and personalities uniting to express their concerns about water and how this precious resource inspires them. He outlines the content of the program and explains the stage-by-stage unveiling of the poetic tale at the heart of this artistic endeavor. He introduces former U.S. Vice-President, the Honourable Al Gore and award-winning scientist, environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki. Al Gore delivers a visual presentation on the threats to mankind’s access to water and the security of our planet’s ecosystems. During a discussion of water points, David Suzuki presents a comparative display of images revealing the stress bearing down on our water resources.

Montreal — Canadian astronaut Julie Payette joined internationally celebrated author Yann Martel to read the first part of the tale in English and French. Cirque du Soleil staged a unique poetic performance to the original music of composer Simon Carpentier at TOHU. Inspired by First Nations myths and legends, the segment featured acrobatic aerial acts and Inuk singer Élisapie Isaac.

Johannesburg/Durban — Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai read a paragraph of the tale, linking water and education. World-renowned musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed on a boardwalk by the sea.

Rio de Janeiro — Brazilian musical icon and environmental advocate Gilberto Gil read the next line of the tale, on protecting the planet’s ecosystems. A special event featuring Gilberto Gil and musical group Empolga às 9 took place at Fundição Progresso.

Paris — Environmental advocate Maud Fontenoy read the next part of the tale, calling attention to global water pollution. In a video clip, French superstars Garou and Patrick Bruel were joined by Jean-Jacques Goldman, Lorie, Michel Fugain, Natasha St Pier, Hélène Ségara and Zazie to sing the words of Luc Plamondon to projections of images of Yann-Arthus Bertrand’s critically acclaimed environmental film “Home.”

Mexico City — Leading actor, director and producer Salma Hayek read the next part of the tale, emphasizing the importance of water in agriculture and food security (feeding the planet). This was followed by a performance by singer Lila Downs at the Gran Hotel overlooking Zocalo Square.

New York City — Singer-songwriter, performer Shakira delivered the next paragraph of the tale, on the life-sustaining powers of water. This was followed by a surprise performance in one of the most exhilarating venues in the world.

Sydney — Conservationist and TV host Bindi Irwin, daughter of beloved Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin, read the next segment of the tale, calling attention to our threatened lakes and rivers. Leading Australian soprano Tiffany Speight performed at The Studio, Sydney Opera House against a backdrop featuring the work of award-winning photographer Peter Lik.

London — Musician, writer, video-writer and human rights advocate Peter Gabriel recited the next part of the tale, emphasizing access to water as a human right. English soul and R&B singer Joss Stone performed.

Marrakesh — Poet Touria Ikbal read the next paragraph of the tale, addressing the relationship between women and water in the developing world. Morocco’s most popular rap group Fnaïre performed in a public place.

Mumbai — World-renowned Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva read the next segment of the tale, on the spiritual properties of water. In a video clip, Academy Award winning composer A. R. Rahman performed one of his most celebrated songs in a moment specially created for the Poetic Social Mission.

Osaka — Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, UNICEF ambassador for the protection of children, read the next part of the tale, on the crisis of melting polar ice caps. Multidisciplinary Japanese pop star Tatuya Ishii delivered an early-morning performance at the Twin21 Atrium. Environmental activist and filmmaker Jean Lemire provides stunning visual imagery.

Santa Monica — Leading actor Matthew McConaughey read the next part of the tale, a tribute to the living animal populations of our oceans. Gregory Colbert’s etude on water “Ashes and Snow” was presented in a most unique venue.

Tampa — Bono and Guy Laliberté engaged in a space-to-earth conversation.

Moscow — A group of children, our inspiration for a brighter future, read the next part of the tale. A performance is presented in Moscow’s famous State Academic Maliy Theatre featuring Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze and including the participation of a group of children and Cirque du Soleil.

International Space Station — Guy Laliberté introduced Canadian astronaut Julie Payette. Julie, Guy and others aboard the ISS discuss the importance of the scientific research conducted on board the ISS over the years, specifically addressing its focus on water issues.

Conclusion — Guy Laliberté delivers closing words from the ISS, issuing his clarion call to action—All for Water and Water for All—and expresses his gratitude and appreciation for the efforts of the many thousands involved in this unique global happening.

It is estimated that three million people saw Moving Stars and Earth for Water from different broadcasting platforms. According to research into audience and readership figures for all types of media, it is estimated that almost 900 million people in 71 countries were reached by news about the Poetic Social Mission, which represents an advertising value of CAN $592 million.

Here’s the poem that was read all around the world…


What the Drop of Water Had to Say
a fable by Yann Martel


Sun and Moon were arguing, again.
Brother and sister, they’d wandered the Universe
and found in this corner a good home.
Sun adored being the star of the show,
so many admiring planets spinning in his orbit.
Moon, more modest, was drawn to Earth.
Now Moon was looking at her brother glumly.
“What’s the matter?” asked Sun.
“My planet is drying up,” replied Moon.
“Earth, that speck of dirt? Why do you care?”
“Because it’s my garden. I love Earth,” Moon pouted,
as she slid into a lunar eclipse so she wouldn’t have to see her brother.
“If Earth is drying up,” continued Sun, “why don’t you adopt a nicer planet?
There’s Saturn, for example, or Jupiter, they’re both impressive.”
“You don’t understand anything. You’re the dimmest of stars!” bawled Moon.
“Is that so?” huffed Sun, bursting with solar storms.
“Excuse me,” came a small voice from planet Earth.
“What?” said Sun and Moon together. “Who are you?”
“I’m a drop of water,” said Drop of Water. “I need your help.”


Drop of Water spoke:
“I take many forms, so that all may be pleased.
I can be liquid, as heavy as gold,
as silky as music,
as quenching as poetry.
I can soothe dry throats
and make fields blossom.
I can rush through pipes,
gushing into pots and sinks,
so that while I work,
children may go to school.”


Drop of Water continued:
“Fresh, I can push and flow down the broadest arteries,
Amazon, Mississippi, Danube, Nile, Euphrates, Volga, Yangtze, Mekong,
so that great green bodies might be fed.
Salty, I can answer the needs of sailors and seas,
so that fish and ships might float in the blue.
And salty or fresh, from blue oceans or green jungles,
I am the softness in the breath of lungs
that restore the planet.”


“So what’s the problem?” interrupted Sun.
“Look at those beaches, there, there and there,” pointed Moon.
“The ones covered in thick, oozing black?” asked Sun.
“Those very ones,” said unhappy Moon.
“I rather like them. They take my heat in very well.”
“Perhaps, but look at the sad eyes peering through,
blinking seabirds, and hear the coughing fish, gasping for air.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” said Sun, looking closer.
“And look at those rivers and oceans, there, there and there” pointed Moon again.
“With the lovely slicks? My light plays off them so beautifully,” said Sun.
“But look at the lifelessness beneath them.
They’re floating graveyards,” replied Moon.
“I hadn’t noticed,” said Sun, looking closer.


Drop of Water spoke again:
“I can be smaller too, so small that sometimes I,
a drop, am a whale next to the water molecules I meet,
who tirelessly support all living matter,
as discreet as the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty.
No sap or blood can flow without water in it.
There’s no life that doesn’t know me intimately,
there’s no life that can live without me.
I am the heart and soul, the primeval soup,
of all that cares. I arrive with birth and depart with death.”


“I can mix the fresh and the salty too, for the good of all,
as when the salty sweat of the farmer pours from the furrow of his brow
into the furrow of the earth he has freshly watered.
Of all that moves, I am proudest of the slow growth of grains,
who never forget to nurture their soul, which they call moisture.
Of all the clothes I can wear hanging in my closet,
I am proudest of the one called food.
When I am food, I am celebrated by all
and every mouth seeks to undress me.”


Drop of Water went on:
“I can also be mist, supplying fogs, clouds and morning dews,
or I can be ice, sharing my cool with drinks and penguins.
So you see, I’m pure and simple, eager to please, willing to accommodate.
Drink me, heat me, freeze me, sprinkle me, swim in me,
I give myself to each and every with open heart,
yet so many exploit me.
My dear brothers Chad and Aral are vanishing,
and my sweet Murray-Darling is most undarling.
If I cannot move freely and abundantly,
how can I give freely and abundantly?”


Sun, struck by concern, peered harder still, and the day became hot.
“What are those ants that crawl in your garden?” Sun asked his sister.
Moon replied, “They’re called humans, my brother.”
“And what do you think of humans, Moon?”
“They’re beautiful but they’re foolish.
When there’s trouble in the world, the men send their women home,
and when there’s trouble in the home, the women send their men out,
so that too often humans are thinking with only half their brains.
They forget what it was like when they were children,
when boys and girls played as equals, splashing water on each other.
Instead women and girls carry jars of water on their heads
to-and-fro from well to home, leaving exhausted prints in the sand.
Are we not all equal before God?”


“And what are humans doing about their plight?” asked Sun.
Drop of Water replied: “Though blameless, I have been judged
and unfairly condemned. I am treated like a raw material.
Oil, that impenitent criminal, mocks me,
‘Can you not turn to vapour? Then save yourself and me!’
I remind Oil that Jesus on the Cross had only one complaint:
‘I am thirsty.’
His final attachment to life on Earth was precious water.
Have we still not learned that with loving kindness
we should slake the thirst not only of gods but of each other?
Surely what He deserved by grace, we deserve by right.
To partake of water is no less a need than to partake of love.
Oil laughs, as remorseless as vinegar.”


“I despair,” said Drop of Water, “and I retreat to colder, calmer climes.
I seek peace in the meditation of ice.
Icebergs are Buddhist monks I send forth,
released into the world from the great monasteries of the Poles.
Their mantra is the blue light humming within their frozen cores.
Their message is peace and oneness,
but alas they simply vanish.
Every year monks leave me and never return.”


“Still I give,” continued Drop of Water, “or I take, as the need may be.
So when I am holy Ganges, and I am always holy Ganges,
I give to the living and I take away the dead.
Nothing has more good karma than water,
which never seeks release from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth,
but always returns to serve others.”


“I am moved by your plight,” said Sun.
“What do other creatures say,
the ones that aren’t half-brained?”
Drop of Water replied:
“The ones that live within me are constant in their lament.
They weep and give me their salty tears in hopes of nourishing me.
From shrill krill to barking sharks to blues-singing whales,
all mourn the ruination of their neighbourhood.
As for creatures of the land,
they come to see me every hot day,
bears to my lakes,
hippos to my rivers,
zebras to my water holes,
and all drop their heads in sadness.
Lastly the creatures of the sky,
their misery is such that they buckle and plummet,
and those that can float find comfort directly on me,
while those that would sink seek refuge in lifeboats they call nests.”


Sun turned to his sister Moon and said:
“You are right to love your garden.
It is beautiful.
Water is a hundred billion clasped hands,
a great chain that embraces the globe,
I see that now.
This planet is like no other I know,
a solitary kite in the sky,
a whistle in the dark,
a song amid the dreary,
a dance in the middle of foot-dragging,
a dazzle of colour splashed onto a drab wall.
Truly this garden of yours is a gem,
a sapphire of incomparable blue.”


“Is there any hope?” asked Sun and Moon together.
“Oh yes,” said Drop of Water.
“In the beginning was water
and to water there is no end.
Water is a child, holder of future,
so let the child be.
It’s a question of balance,
between abundance and scarcity,
between use and abuse.
A day will come soon, I hope,
when I will be owned by none and shared by all,
when I will be sullied by none and nourish all,
when I will be taken freely and given freely.
In the beginning was water
and to water there is no end.
Water is a child, holder of future,
so let the child be.
A day will come soon, I hope,
when we will start over,
at peace with water,
at peace with our future,
one planet, one drop.”

# # #


Next month we’ll conclude with the eighth and final installment of this series – “Back on Earth – Mission Success!” – which brings us Guy’s observations while on orbit following his return to Earth.

Stay tuned!