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Social Mission

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Poetic Social Mission

"Moving Stars and Earth for Water"

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. Space Adventures as you may or may not know, offers a variety of programs, such as: Orbital spaceflight missions to the International Space Station (with an option to participate in a spacewalk), Circumlunar missions around the Moon (although none of those have taken place), zero gravity flights, cosmonaut training programs, spaceflight qualification programs, and reservations on future suborbital spacecraft.

Since 2001, Space Adventures has launched seven clients on eight successful missions to the International Space Station (ISS): In April 2001, the company sent American businessman Dennis Tito for a reported $20 million payment, making him the first space tourist. South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth did the same in April 2002, becoming the first African in space. Gregory Olsen became the third private citizen to travel to the ISS in October 2005, followed by the first female space tourist, Anousheh Ansari, who completed her 10-day orbital mission in September 2006.

Launch: Sep 30, 2009, 07:14:45 UTC
Rocket: Soyuz FG
Site: Baikonur 1/5
Landing: Oct 11, 2009, 04:32:10 UTC
Missions: Soyuz TMA-16 / TMA-14
Time: 10days, 21 hours, 17 minutes

Charles Simonyi, an ex-executive at Microsoft, became the fifth space tourist who visited the ISS in April 2007, then again in March 2009. (He is the world’s first private space explorer who launched to space twice.) In 2008, game developer Richard Garriott, the first second-generation U.S. astronaut, became the sixth client to travel to the ISS. And lastly (as of this writing), Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté.

TMA-16 was the 103rd flight of a Soyuz spacecraft, the first launching in 1967. To say it’s the Russian’s space work-horse is an understatement; it’s been quite reliable. Soyuz is the third Soviet human spaceflight program after the Vostok and Voskhod, and is directly comparable to NASA’s Apollo program of the same era (making Vostok the 1-man capsule comparable to Mercury, and Voskhod the 2-man capsule comparable to the Gemini program). In fact, Soyuz was originally developed by the Soviet Union as part of a moon landing project, intending to put Soviet cosmonauts on the Moon, which, alas, didn’t happen. However, the launch of Soyuz TMA-16 marked the first time since 1969 that three Soyuz craft were in orbit simultaneously – Soyuz TMA-14 was launched on March 26, 2009 (and consequently was the craft Laliberté returned in on October 11, 2009), Soyuz TMA-15 was launched on May 27, 2009 (returning December 1, 2009), and TMA-16 (which returned with another crew on March 18, 2010).

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. 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.

Buckle up, Rocket Men.

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