This week in space for Canada is all about Canadian billionaire and Cirque du Soleil entrepreneur Guy Lalibert, his trip to the International Space Station and his upcoming presentation from the ISS on October 9th titled “Moving Stars and Earth for Water” which is part of his plan to raise awareness of water-related issues through the ONE DROP Foundation.
So how did our first Canadian fire breathing space tourist get to the point where, at least for this one week, he is so very important?
I suppose the first thing to note is that Lalibert is consistently listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the richest people in the world with a net worth in the area of $2.5 billion USD according to Wikipedia, which also lists him as 2006 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
Therefore, it’s likely he has more disposable income than the entire Canadian Space Agency which generally has to make do on $350 million CDN or so each year (the agency did receive a substantial funding increase in the most recent fiscal year as discussed the article “The Canadian Space Agency Comes out a Winner in Conservative Budget, Sort of“).
In essence, he seems to be the real life incarnation of the eccentric millionaire used as a plot device by innumerable space novels and movies over the years who starts off the story by paying for the enterprise on which the story builds.
Lalibert even comes with an inspiring self made history. In the early 1980’s, he was just an enterprising street performer in Quebec, hanging with other street performers in much the same way as he is now hanging with cosmonauts and astronauts.
But he’s not unique.
According to the HobbySpace website, a new category of space angels ” are now putting serious money into innovative space endeavors. Using very low cost approaches, the projects can carry out exciting projects that NASA does not have the money for or, as in the case of space tourism, has stood in the way of.”
These angels include Microsoft founder Paul Allen (who funded Burt Rutan’s Spaceship One through his Vulcan Inc. foundation), motel chain owner Robert Bigelow (who has promised to spend up to $500 million over the next decade to develop a space based hotel/tourist business through his company Bigelow Aerospace), Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, Paypal co-founder Elon Musk, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and literally dozens of others.
Lalibert is unique only in that he’s perhaps the first Canadian to join this growing list of space angels (although it could be argued that Mike Lazaridis, founder and Co-CEO of Research In Motion rightly belongs as the first Canadian on this list because of his contributions toward financing the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in 1999).
Why do these people end up doing these things? Perhaps Lalibert, as this weeks most high profile member of the the club, will provide a little more insight into his motivations when he hosts his global extravaganza on October 9th.