Bringing the Kasakhstan space launch home to the Glebe

Sean Costello at the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in Kazakhstan, where Canadian David Saint-Jacques was launched into space.
The author tells eager students how it all went down. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF S. COSTELLO

By Sean Costello

In early December, long-time Glebe resident Sean Costello returned from a 10-day journey to Russia and Kazakhstan, where he had been embedded with the Canadian Space Agency’s media team to witness and cover the launch of David Saint-Jacques, Canada’s latest astronaut to live and work aboard the International Space Station.

Standing in the cold, biting wind of the Kazakh Steppe, a quick check of my father’s watch confirmed that David Saint-Jacques’s big moment – Canada’s next big moment – was just a few minutes away. As my mind went through a mental checklist of prelaunch plans and intentions, I knew that my list was miniscule compared to the checks that Saint-Jacques and the other two Expedition 58 astronauts were completing. For a moment I wondered if my timer-driven cameras were going to wake up after lying in wait for 30 hours near the base of the rocket, but I quickly moved on knowing that nothing could be done if the cold had in fact worn them down. The launch of the mighty Soyuz-FG class rocket and Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft was upon us and the closest that any non-essential personnel were permitted was our viewing area, some 1,400 meters away.

Launch from the historic Baikonur Cosmodrome was scheduled for 5:31 p.m., 6:31 a.m. in Ottawa, taking into account the 11-hour time zone difference. Looking across the snowswept plains, Saint-Jacques’s ride stood tall, venting a small stream of liquid oxygen; I smiled as I recalled how just two-and-a-half hours earlier I was honoured to be standing at the base of that fuelled rocket, waving as I photographed Saint-Jacques and his colleagues as they climbed the final steps to enter the elevator that would take them up for boarding. How lucky am I, I thought, to have been one of only two Canadians (a CBC videographer was the other) granted such exclusive media access to witness and report on Saint-Jacques’s final pre-launch steps on planet Earth. As I was transmitting photos and written reports back home for publishing, I realized that it wasn’t just luck. Standing at the base of that ladder was the culmination of years of hard work, focused planning, professional development, a great amount of support from many fine people (professionals, friends and family alike) and some sacrifice from my other projects as well.

While covering Saint-Jacques’s launch was truly special, it was just one of many exciting areas of research for my ongoing mission to study, document and share all that I can about the “ways and means” of high-performing people, teams and organizations. How are they able to rise so high above others? What does it take to succeed at the time of ignition, when it takes years and thousands of workers to prepare for that moment? What lessons can be learned from current or past events which, when transferred effectively, will allow other teams to benefit and not have to pay to repeat the same mistake? Essentially, what inspires these high performers? More importantly: how can I inspire others to be like them?

Most recently, my research was focused on what it takes to train and prepare Canadian astronauts. To read my feature report on the topic, please see Other areas of study have taken me deep into the world of commercial spaceflight (SpaceX, Northrop Grumman), sport (on-water coverage of the 34th sailing of the America’s Cup; on-field coverage of the Ottawa Redblacks, including their win at the 2016 Grey Cup, and high-performance aviation (Royal Canadian Air Force air-to-air refueling, spring training of the CF-18 Demonstration Team and CF Snowbirds).

Restless unless I’m sharing, in addition to writing for entities like Canadian Geographic, Skies Magazine, Canadian Aviator,, I love presenting to elementary students (know a teacher?), creating custom video messages and also keynoting business retreats. With a nod to the “Apollo 13” themed learning event which was hosted by the Entrepreneurs’ Organization at the Mayfair Theatre (the very one that first inspired me to capture and recycle “failure is not an option” type lessons from spaceflight operations), I am considering hosting a presentation at the Mayfair in early 2019. It would focus on Saint-Jacques’s astronaut training and launch, my takeaways from his mission-to-date (he’s still up there, until June!) and other key findings. If you’d be interested in hearing about it, please drop me a note! I’m @Sean- InMotion on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter; on Facebook, I’m

Sean Costello is a Glebe writer, researcher and presenter.

Share this