(Sen) - Guy Laliberté is the founder of Cirque du Soleil and the ONE DROP Foundation. He is also the seventh private individual to finance his own voyage into space. In September 2009 Mr Laliberté launched on board the Russian Soyuz spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station.
Guy Laliberté spoke to Sen about his passion for space exploration and his experience of space travel.
When did you first become interested in space exploration?
My good friend Julie Payette shared with me her first mission. Her passion was very contagious. She is also is the one who told me to be on the lookout for private space travel in the early 2000. I started to look into it more seriously for a possible flight in 2007, but I had to back down for personal reasons. From then on, Eric Anderson from Space Adventures would keep me informed on the possibilities. When I received his invitation in April 2009, I first turned it down because it was too quick. I was in the middle of the 25th anniversary of Cirque du Soleil, working on the creation of two new shows and it was just too hectic. Over the weekend, I spent a sleepless night watching the stars on my boat and sensing I was letting something important, an incredible experience, pass me by. I tracked Eric and asked if I could still be a candidate and asked him for a week to get organized. The adventure began.
How much training took place prior to your space flight?
The first month (May 2009) was basically a thorough medical evaluation. Every possible test was made to evaluate if I was apt for training. Most of the doctors were surprised that I was actually in pretty good shape before starting my training. Once I was declared eligible for training, I was 5 months in Star City. That was a fast track.
One of your main reasons to go into space was to raise awareness of the ONE DROP Foundation that you set up. Did your trip to space reinforce the importance of sharing Earth's resources?
Most definitely! But I was already convinced before going in space. That is one of the reasons I chose to create ONE DROP… the notion of sharing to fight poverty is part of ONE DROP’S DNA. What I discovered from space is a very different perspective. I could see Earth’s fragility with regards to the immensity of the universe. One small membrane protects planet Earth in a very active environment. But I also saw the Earth’s strengths… very visible expressions of its domination with respect to the human species.. I saw erupting volcanoes, tornados, rising storms… all clear indications that the Earth is a fighter and it will survive us.
Space is "stateless" and ungoverned, do you consider it would be good to see space exploration emerge as something for Earth government rather than individual governments?
All I can say is what I witnessed in space and on-board the ISS and what prevailed was a human-driven community. A community that aims a common goal of understanding, discovery, an incredible amount of common respect and the wish to make a better world. I am all for that.
The 1st Principle of the United Nations Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space is: "The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried on for the benefit and in the interests of all mankind." - do you think the same principle applies to the Earth's water resources?
Yes. Water is a precious resource but it more importantly the source of life. In our ONE DROP values we state:
Water is essential to life. It is a shared inherent right to be preserved, protected and made accessible to all, today and tomorrow.
I believe it is at the core of humanity.
What thoughts ran through your mind when you looked back at earth from space?
The very first time I saw the earth from space I just shouted out… I was in awe… and there was a full moon… so I could see both, the earth and the moon at the same time. I will never forget that beautiful sight.
Was there one thought in particular that struck you once you had a space view of Earth?
Yes, it was that relationship between Earth and the universe, its extreme fragility and extreme strength with regards to the human species. That thought is still very much what struck me most. I would also add that I believe that planet Earth is the expression paradise. It is beautiful.
How did you find living on-board the ISS?
An amazing experience. The generosity of the astronauts and cosmonauts was incredible. They work so hard and yet always took the time to answer my questions and help me with my Poetic Social Mission. I still cherish the memories of the meal times. We had really good food and fantastic conversations floating around. There is an authentic camaraderie. They are truly amazing people.
Do you intend to return to space?
I wish I could have stayed a month. As soon as we landed I wanted to go straight back up because I really enjoyed the ride down and it seemed like I was up for such a short time. I don’t expect to go back in the near future but I will always look at any possibility.
What are your thoughts on the plans of commercial operations such as Virgin Galactic?
I think that the more access the better. I was very privileged. I was the 7th private space explorer and one of only 510 humans that could travel into space and gain that knowledge and have that incredible experience.
Would you agree that the more people that see the Earth from space through their own eyes the more will be done to protect Earth's environment?
Yes. But we also have to look at planet Earth from Earth with a global perspective for humankind.
Why is space exploration important?
Space exploration enables a new perspective on life on Earth. It is key to so many scientific discoveries that help us evolve as a species. Space explorers are the modern pioneers that aim at making us having a better understanding of our planet and its environment.