The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) made an unusual announcement Monday: it would hold a press conference Thursday morning about the first Canadian space tourist, who would perform “the first philanthropic mission to the International Space Station”. The identity of that person, and the nature of that mission, were not immediately disclosed.
We do now, though, have a better idea of at least who will be going. NASA Watch first reported Tuesday morning that the tourist is Guy Laliberté, the founder of Cirque du Soleil. With a net worth as high as $2.5 billion, he certain has the means to pay for such a trip; moreover, this year is the 25th anniversary of the founding of Cirque. The Canadian Press also confirmed it was Laliberté, citing “a source close to the mission”.
Whoever the mystery Canadian customer is, he’ll be flying to the ISS on the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft, scheduled for launch in late September on a regular taxi mission to the ISS. Space Adventures announced in April that a seat on that mission might be available since a Kazakh cosmonaut scheduled to fly had apparently been removed by the Russian space agency. At an April press telecon Eric Anderson didn’t indicate who it would be or how long they would have to fill the seat. Also unclear now is how much time, if any, Laliberté has spent training in Russia already.
Another area of interest is what the CSA’s role is in this mission. They are participating in the press conference, with CSA president Steve Maclean scheduled to speak. Canada’s standing on the ISS is higher now than ever, with Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk already on the station for a long-duration mission and another Canadian, Julie Payette, scheduled to visit the station later this month on the STS-127 shuttle mission.