Guy Laliberte’s Poetic Social Mission
PART 8: “Mission Success!”


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. In Part 7, “Moving Stars and Earth for Water” we looked at the event itself and the meaning behind Guy’s Poetic Social Mission to space. And now in the final installment – “Back on Earth – Mission Success!”, we’ll experience space through the eyes of Guy Laliberte himself.


POST 92 | DAY 187 – SEPTEMBER 30, 2009

I’ve been back on Earth for three days now and my quarantine period is already ending tomorrow (Thursday, October 15). I have both feet firmly on the ground but half of my head is still in the stars. And so, I used my last day in Star City to write my blog, something I wanted to do while I was in space but which turned out quite impossible because of my schedule and technical reasons. I’m really sorry for this delay but I’ll try to tell you all about my adventures since the last time I wrote.

On Wednesday, September 30, after a restful sleep (I have to say, this surprised me a bit), I got up at 4:00 a.m., all ready for this great day that started, however, with a not very pleasant medical consultation. Without going into detail, let’s just say that the purpose of this consultation was to make sure that we weren’t going into space with too much solid matter, since we would be jammed for 2 days in a very small module… Gee, the things we put up with to go into space!

I then took a shower and a doctor disinfected me with alcohol. He even disinfected my head, which gave me a little alcohol buzz as a bonus! We then put on our training suits and headed for breakfast. I wasn’t really hungry so I didn’t eat very much, but Max and Jeff ate like bears!

After breakfast, we went back to our rooms to pack up the remaining personal items to take on our trip. I have never packed my bags with such concentration!Once our bags were ready, we got together with our spouses and a few officers to raise a glass of champagne to the mission’s success. After this ritual, we each signed the door of our room and an Orthodox priest sprinkled us with water. A sort of space baptism ceremony perhaps?

We left what had been our home in the last months to get on the bus that would take us to the preparation site and… to my kids and all my gang, all wearing a clown nose! What a wonderful surprise! This added a splash of colour to the environment, since the sun wasn’t even up yet…However, we witnessed a magnificent sunrise on our way to the site. According to tradition—once again—we were shown a short video prepared by our friends and/or our family for each one of us. It was a very moving, sweet moment—and funny too!

When we arrived on the site, we had to remove our clothes and put on what I guess we could call a medical bra (!) along with our flight suit. We then did our leak check in front of the media and our friends and family who watched behind a glass panel. We talked with them for a moment, said our last goodbyes and, once again, stood before the officers. Emotions were running high. We returned to the small living room, raised another glass (we just dipped our lips) and said our official goodbyes facing the officials. Happily, all my gang was wearing a clown nose so I was able to quickly spot them in the crowd! Everything went by so fast… We got on the bus, headed for the spacecraft… It was all very moving.

As we got closer to the spacecraft, it seemed to grow in front of our very eyes. We made one last stop for the final “terrestrial pee” in the spot where Gagarin started this tradition. Jeff and Max went but I had taken care of this, so to speak, just before putting my flight suit on so I didn’t really need to go… which meant that it took a bit longer for me, but I didn’t want to miss out on this ritual! Then, in quick succession, we hopped on the bus, arrived at the site, embraced our doctors and climbed up the stairs of the spacecraft’s scaffolding, singing what had become our training song: Mammy Blue. We waved to everyone one last time, nervous, excited and very emotional.

A tiny elevator took us up (luckily, there wasn’t a fourth astronaut with us!) and we were helped into our capsule. We then settled ourselves into our seats and started a series of preliminary checkout activities including computer and leak checks, etc.

To prepare ourselves mentally, we listened to some 45 minutes of music we had chosen and almost drifted into a meditative state! And so, we “meditated” right up until the countdown: 5… 4… 3… 2… 1 minute… then seconds, then LIFTOFF! We felt the motors vibrating and heard the rumble but the cabin is tightly closed so it was more like a dull noise. I had witnessed a liftoff before, so I can safely say that, from the inside, you hear almost nothing.

We felt ourselves being lifted into the air but it was all very smooth. For 9 ½ minutes, we experienced the various separation stages. Thanks to his experience, Jeff was able to guide us well. What was amusing was that each time he said such and such a step would take place in 10 seconds, it happened 5 seconds earlier!

If I had to describe to you how I felt as the spacecraft went upward, I would have to say that the feelings were more emotional and spiritual than physical.

During the last separation stage, we distinctly heard the disconnection and, quite unexpectedly, our little stuffed animal began to fly! Our limbs felt light all of a sudden—we were weightless! We looked at each other and did a high-five! 🙂 I quickly looked out the window and saw a marvellous and very round ball: WOW, what a magnificent site! The sky is not the limit.

After a few minutes, I saw the Earth and an almost full Moon, and we began our orbit. We stayed in our seats for a few more hours then moved over to our cabin on the other side. We removed our flight suits and, at that moment, I lived my first period of adaptation—the hardest one for me up until then—and threw up what I had eaten and drank. This lasted a few seconds then I felt different, and everything went well after that.

During these two days in orbit, we slept, ate (we had quite a lot of fun with the food!) and prepared ourselves to increase our altitude in order to dock to the ISS. Whenever I could, I looked out the window.

* * *

POST 93 | DAY 189 – OCTOBER 02, 2009

We docked on Friday, October 2. During the operation, we were in radio communication with the teams aboard the ISS and the docking manoeuvres were successful. Once the docking was completed, a depressurization operation was carried out to make sure the hatch was well sealed. When we opened it, the odour was unlike anything I had smelled before. Jeff told me that it was “the smell of space!” It was really special for my sense of smell to make such a discovery.

We were warmly greeted by everyone as we entered the ISS. We were all so very happy to have reached our target! Not long after our arrival, we held a videoconference with the Mission Control Center and were able to talk to our families. It was a brief but reassuring conversation – even more so for our families, I imagine!

This beautiful little moment was followed by a presentation on security measures, our sleeping quarters, the Russian and American laundry rooms, etc. In short, we were handed such an abundance of information and introduced so quickly to our new friends that it felt like we had arrived only a few minutes ago, but it was already time for lunch!

Even though everything was going fast, I felt zen-like. I went over to the window to be by myself and stayed there for 2 or 3 hours, even treating myself to a little nap, as a bonus!

Then it was time for me to start adapting myself to life aboard the ISS. I walked around, met people, obtained more detailed explanations, started taking pictures. It was all so beautiful? I had to stop myself from taking pictures every second!

We prepared dinner and went to sleep. Actually, I didn’t sleep much but was rested enough to start the big job that would keep me busy for the next four days: the last details of the Moving Stars and Earth for Water event, including downlinks, recordings, pictures and press conferences. The event is aptly named: I’ve seen stars, I’ve seen the Earth and I’ve prepared myself extensively concerning the cause of water since I hope to touch as many people as possible.

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POST 94 | DAY 190 – OCTOBER 03, 2009

Great news! ONE DROP received a video from Guy on board the International Space Station and he wishes to share them with you.Guy wanted us to let you know that he is doing fabulously and that he’s enjoying his experience immensely. He also wished to remind you to tune in to on October 9 to watch Moving Stars and Earth for Water online.See you then!

* * *

POST 95 | DAY 193 – OCTOBER 06, 2009

On the ISS, the days are very full and the schedules, extremely tight. Like me, everyone is busy going about their business.

I didn’t want to become the accident-prone comic-strip character Gaston Lagaffe, so I was very, very careful at first and tried not to bump into anything. I was like someone taking his very first intergalactic driving lesson! Despite my best intentions, I managed to hit my head on various surfaces and feared that it would look like the blue planet upon my return! Of course, everyone had a good laugh… With time, I became better at avoiding things, but I also became a bit more bold (a bit too much sometimes!). :-p

I used every free second to look out the window to live my experience to the fullest. Several people asked me how it felt to see the Earth from up above. The contact was actually an emotional one, almost like watching a fleeting work of art. It was moving, intense and peaceful all at the same time.
Nicole, Gennady, Mike, Franck, Bob, Roman…All those I met on the ISS were very nice. I appreciated their generosity, their support, their knowledge, their sense of humour… They were all curious to learn what my Poetic Social Mission was all about and, once I gave them the details, they all got on board and even accepted to wear a clown nose during an official photo session! One more mission accomplished! Most of all, I was very moved by such a show of support.

I felt like a fish in water up there. My only concern during those days in space was the success of the October 9th event. I looked forward to the event and was anxious at the same time—in fact, this is exactly how I feel before the premiere of a Cirque du Soleil show. Eight days is not a very long time and I know I would have enjoyed the environment more if I hadn’t had this concern. But I’m not saying this because I have regrets. On the contrary, I’m happy and proud of the Mission and I did it for a cause that is very dear to me.

* * *

POST 96 | DAY 196 – OCTOBER 09, 2009

On October 9, we were lucky to get an uplink to see the event live. I’m not sure that this was a good thing after all since the transmission was interrupted three times because of the satellite coverage. The image was jerky and not very clear, so I wasn’t able to tell if the real show was being well transmitted. As soon as the event was over, I called Montréal to find out and was relieved to hear the team say they were very satisfied with the result since there had been only a few minor distortions. I was happy!

Even though I was eager to see the comments on how the show had been received, I was already proud of my friends who had taken part in the event and my Cirque du Soleil gang, and was grateful to all of them.

I didn’t sleep much during my stay in space and told myself I would able to catch up once I was back on Earth! I always ended up dozing off as I was admiring the view outside the window. I could see 16 sunrises and sunsets all in one day: sheer heaven!

The food aboard the ISS came from many countries, and I was very surprised by its variety. I missed eating fresh fruit but that was about all.

Of course, everything is a bit more complicated in space, but one adapts… We develop techniques and hold on tightly to handles! The equipment and floating laboratory were very impressive. Everything is precisely coordinated and everyone has a lot to do. Weightlessness may give the impression that we’re static but there’s a lot of activity going on!

On a physical level, blood rushes to our head so we become swollen. Our entire body adapts to weightlessness: the organs position themselves a bit differently while the muscles hardly work at all… It’s also very dry; the water vapours are recycled—even urine! Yep, I drank urine water and found that it tasted almost as good as spring water!
I was also very impressed by the number of experiments carried out aboard the ISS, for health and environment purposes… for the benefit of human beings and their planet.

I lived a countless number of amazing moments during this adventure but the most memorable ones are those during which I watched the Earth. Each time my eyes spotted something beautiful, something even more stunning came along. Don’t ask me to describe to you all the emotions I felt, it’s an impossible task. All I can say is that it’s a unique and profound feeling. Apart from the birth of my children and intense moments shared with those I love, these days in space were the most wonderful moments of my life and I’m so grateful to have lived them.

Seeing our planet’s immense beauty also makes us realize its great fragility. Surrounded by darkness, with very distant neighbours, it strikes us as small and vulnerable… and magnificently proud. If there is such a thing as paradise, we’re already living in it. Now, I’m deeply convinced of this.

* * *

POST 97 | DAY 198 – OCTOBER 11, 2009

Not long after the Poetic Social Mission event, it was already time to prepare our return. More hugs, a few tears, wishes, goodbyes… and a heavy heart when the door of the Soyuz closed behind us. We checked our equipment and the return trip to Earth was over in no time. We did two orbits and, when we were above Africa, a manoeuvre was carried out to precisely position our spacecraft for re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Once this manoeuvre is accomplished, there’s only direction to go: down! Undocking from the ISS and reentry are the most critical operations. It’s a physical experience of adrenaline and movement.

When the modules separated, we noticed that we were entering the ozone layer, which is blue, and saw sparks as well, since the temperature increases to 1600°C outside! We experienced maximum 4G acceleration for several minutes. Needless to say, I felt quite small during this very intense moment!

We then arrived in the Earth’s atmosphere and its gravity, which means that everything that’s not well attached in the Soyouz falls. As for us, we feel quite heavy!

The first parachute opened up at an altitude of 10 km to allow all parachutes to deploy. The purpose of the second parachute is to slow down the spacecraft’s descent, and this creates a lot of turbulence in our little capsule! I had forgotten the 3rd parachute, which creates even more turbulence. We pivot, it’s noisy… This is more than rock ‘n’ roll, it’s “rocket roll”!

We then made contact with ground security (the survival team) and prepared for impact. It’s like a car accident, but our seats, custom-made to precisely fit our bodies, cushion the blow. We felt that we were rolling on ourselves but, in fact, we were simply being pulled by the parachute.

Our descent went so well that, only after one or two minutes, someone was knocking at my window! They rolled the Soyuz to open the hatch, and the captain, the engineer and myself were taken out. When you exit, you don’t feel balanced at all: your head is spinning, your muscles are soft… It’s an odd feeling, like a total lack of control.

First pleasant sensation: the smell of Earth. My, it smelled good!

We took some time to breathe a bit then were taken to the medical tent where our spacesuits were removed and where we underwent a series of check-ups. When our condition was confirmed stable, we took a 2-hour helicopter ride to our first press conference after landing. I wasn’t as affected as my two team mates since my stay in space had been a short one. For them, however, it was more difficult. They couldn’t even turn their heads.

After the press conference, we took a plane to Star City and ate and rested a bit during the flight. When we arrived in Star City, the welcome committee and the doctors were there to greet us, and the buses were waiting. It was quarantine time once again!

The spouses of Gennady and Mike were there. We all headed toward our “home,” Old Prophy, where a brass band greeted us. There was also a surprise waiting for me: Claudia, my love, had come to Star City to see me! I was overjoyed! It was so nice to finally kiss without the doctors to stop us!

We underwent another series of tests, more thorough this time: joints, blood tests… here we go again!

I took a good shower (heavenly!) and shaved… By the way, I did try letting my hair grow when I was on the ISS but I had to face reality: there’s not much hope for me there! 😉

Claudia prepared a chicken and rice soup just the way I like it, then we watched a movie and, very quickly, Guy fell asleep. I woke up several times and felt that I was floating… And so we took advantage of these moments to talk!

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POST 98 | DAY 200 – OCTOBER 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, was a statutory holiday in Montréal but a medical day for me! This didn’t really put me in the best of moods since the idea of being examined by doctors once again didn’t please me a whole lot. I would much rather have continued sleeping!

In the afternoon, we went for a relaxing sauna and massage, and I felt fine after that. Then, I watched more films with Claudia and we talked for a long time. It’s so nice to spend time with the one you love! She left at around 4:00 in the morning for her 7:00 flight.

Tuesday, October 13, was a relatively quiet day, with a brief 30-minute press conference and some time to myself for filing, sorting out pictures, etc. I hadn’t wanted to touch any of this while Claudia was with me, but now, I had to get to work!

This whole experience in space was still very much a part of me and I didn’t want to get back to reality too fast. I did a few laps in the pool and, since I’m recovering quite rapidly, the doctors have given me permission to leave as early as tomorrow. Yippee!I therefore rolled up my sleeves and took on the task of putting some order in my paperwork, had my first meeting with Daniel Lamarre, my CEO, updated my mission log, recorded the video for the mission log… Welcome back to Earth, Guy!

And so, I’m leaving tomorrow for Moscow. My adventure in Star City ends here but I intend to be back when Max and Jeff land, in March 2010.

* * *

POST 99 | DAY 201 – OCTOBER 14, 2009

I can now truly say “mission accomplished”: I have succeeded in fulfilling a personal dream of mine. For this, I am extremely grateful: To Cirque du Soleil, for their great creative work… To the extraordinary group of people with whom I lived with for 5 months, and who have deepened my knowledge and enriched my life in so many ways… For living this experience in space, while taking precious time to watch the Earth and the stars… For the Poetic Social Mission, that succeeded in calling attention to the ONE DROP Foundation and the situation of water around the world…

The messages we received after the October 9th event were extremely positive. In the coming weeks, we will need to analyze the outcome, but the signs are very encouraging so far.I hope that all this has succeeded in endowing ONE DROP with a personality, since its “foundation” DNA was definitely encoded after this trip. More than ever, ONE DROP believes that the arts remain the best vehicle to touch people, enlighten and obtain support. This adventure will inspire it to continue working creatively to ensure its future.

In closing, I would like to thank the agencies that supported me throughout this project: the Canadian Space Agency, NASA, the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, Space Adventures… My trainers, instructors, interpreters and doctors, who did their utmost to properly prepare me for this adventure… Max and Jeff: it was an honour for me to fly with them… My Cirque du Soleil, ONE DROP and Poetic Social Mission teams, for their support and hard work. We succeeded once again in accomplishing a tremendous project under tight deadlines and conditions that were not always easy! Those who accompanied me and gave me their support every day: Valerie, my personal assistant, Geneviève, my coordinator, André, my I.T. technician, and Adrian, Sylvain, Alain and Anya, my documentary film crew… All those who, directly or indirectly, helped accomplish the Poetic Social Mission… My family (my parents, my children, my love Claudia, my brother, my relatives), for their unconditional love and support… The cosmonauts and astronauts, who generously guided me along the way… My friends, who encouraged me with their text messages, calls, e-mails and gifts… And to all of you out there, who inspire me to continue working towards a better world, in my own way, using my own dreams as a lever…

Together, let’s keep hoping that one day, thanks to our efforts and determination, we will live on a planet where everyone will have access to drinking water.

With love,


“Mission accomplished,” a relaxed and smiling Laliberte, a former street performer now worth an estimated $2.5 billion, told a news conference at Russia’s space training center outside Moscow. “That was the ride of my lifetime.”

For all intents and purposes, Guy Laliberté’s POETIC SOCIAL MISSION and “Moving Stars and Earth for Water” broadcast event from the International Space Station (and 14 cities around the world) was a resounding success.
Following the broadcast Laliberté strengthened his resolve promoting ONE DROP, photos from his journey were used as projections in Cirque du Soliel’s 2010 production TOTEM, and in June 2011, Laliberte published a book entitled Gaia (Assouline Publishing), containing photos of Earth from his 2009 trip (proceeds from the book benefitting the One Drop Foundation, of course.)

“I never denied this was a moment to create awareness toward the situation of water in the world, toward foundation One Drop,” said Laliberte.“I don’t have 25 years; the world doesn’t have 25 years to address the situation of water, so I think this was a great opportunity to combine a personal dream also, and having a greater benefit than just coming in space.”

The ascent to the International Space Station (ISS) was more of “an emotional and spiritual” encounter with something new, he said. “But coming back was really a ride!” Laliberte returned to Earth aboard the Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft (left at the ISS as an emergency vehicle during that previous flight) with Russian Gennady Padalka and U.S. astronaut Michael Barratt both of whom had spent almost seven months at the outpost.

He said he had tried to entertain the station’s crew, though he confessed there was strict discipline on board which limited his clowning.”For a person like me, who goes into such a busy environment, the last thing you want to do is to hit and damage some kind of equipment there,” he said.”So my first steps there were very careful and actually day after day I was able to be in a more playful environment.”

Following his trip into space, Laliberté recalled the journey as an amazing ride. “Everything was an amazing ride and I would go back up there right now to do it again,” Laliberte told reporters at a press conference outside Moscow. Laliberte, 50 at the time, spent about $35 million USD to reserve his spot on the Soyuz.He said the price of admission was “worth every penny and more,” because he was able to raise awareness of his cause aimed at highlighting the situation of water on earth through the foundation One Drop.He also told reporters that the return trip from space to earth was the ride of his lifetime.”You are going down and you are going through these blue layers and … you start to see the sparks, and it’s an amazing spectacle. For me as an entertainer, this was an amazing show. I’d go up there right away to just do it again, because it was such a great physical and adrenaline kick for me.”