Top of the world

A meet­ing with Vasily Klyukin, the Rus­sian mag­nate head­ing for the stars.

VOGUE Hommes International (English) - - CONTENTS - By di­dier péron

— “The eter­nal si­lence of th­ese in­fi­nite spa­ces fills me with dread.” While Blaise Pas­cal’s words might res­onate with the awe–stricken dream­ers cran­ing their necks to­wards the Milky Way, in re­al­ity the cos­mos ceased to be silent a long time ago. Granted, sound still doesn’t carry in space, but by launch­ing colonies of geo­sta­tion­ary satel­lites for telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ( tele­vi­sion, in­ter­net, mo­bile phones, etc. ), mon­i­tor­ing weather con­di­tions or mil­i­tary use, we’ve made space a very chatty place. And th­ese plat­forms, which are vir­tu­ally within arm’s reach of life here on Earth, are noth­ing com­pared with the in­ter­ga­lac­tic depths probed by the most ad­vanced tele­scopes in search of new and po­ten­tially in­hab­ited plan­ets. The pos­si­bil­ity of ex­trater­res­trial life isn’t just the fig­ment of a film–maker’s imag­i­na­tion or a sci–fi nov­el­ist’s fan­tasy. Not when we have al­ready counted hun­dreds of bil­lions of gal­ax­ies which can con­tain any­thing up­wards of a hun­dred bil­lion stars, each with their plan­ets!

That Al­fonso Cuarón’s Grav­ity should gross more than half a bil­lion world­wide shows the ex­tent to which we are simultaneously fas­ci­nated and re­pelled by the zero–grav­ity world that stretches beyond any known limit above our heads. To see San­dra Bul­lock stranded in space pulled us to the edge of the phys­i­cal and men­tal black hole which the cos­mos epit­o­mises bet­ter than any­thing else, much like the ex­panses of white on erst­while ex­plor­ers’ maps. The un­charted ter­ri­tory in which to lose our­selves.

Space travel con­tin­ues to lure the ad­ven­tur­ers among us. Vir­gin Galac­tic, founded by Bri­tish bil­lion­aire Richard Branson, will of­fer pas­sen­gers the ex­pe­ri­ence of zero grav­ity inside SpaceShipTwo, a space­plane that will travel to the vac­uum of space. Vir­gin Galac­tic is be­lieved to have sold some 650 tick­ets, whose price has in­creased from $200,000 to $250,000 each. At the end of 2013, new­comer World View, an Ari­zona–based start–up, be­gan sell­ing flights in a cap­sule lifted by a he­lium bal­loon for $75,000. “Pas­sen­gers will be among the few to have seen the cur­va­ture of the Earth with their own eyes. They will be able to gaze at the as­tound­ing views, the black­ness of space, the bril­liance of stars and the thin veil of at­mos­phere en­velop­ing our planet,” prom­ises the company which an­tic­i­pates the first voy­ages will take place within the next three years. Mean­while, mul­ti­mil­lion­aire Den­nis Tito, who be­came the first space tourist in 2001 when he bought him­self a seat on a Soyuz space­craft, has an­nounced he is work­ing with a team of en­gi­neers at In­spi­ra­tion Mars to send a pri­vately–funded mis­sion to Mars in Jan­uary 2018: a 500–day round trip for Tito and two as­tro­nauts.

By sign­ing a cheque for $1.5 mil­lion at the am­fAR gala in May 2013, the Rus­sian mag­nate Vasily Klyukin put him­self in the en­vi­able po­si­tion of travel com­pan­ion to the ac­tor Leonardo DiCaprio on a jour­ney to the stars. In the early 2000s, Klyukin co–founded Sov­com­bank, which rapidly be­came one of Rus­sia’s lead­ing banks. Ten years later his for­tune was made. Klyukin now lives in Monaco where, be­tween two glo­be­trot­ting ad­ven­tures, he de­signs fu­tur­is­tic sky­scrapers. For the more af­flu­ent in search of new sen­sa­tions, space has be­come the next fron­tier to over­come. And 2014 could be the year this ex­cit­ing new space tourism gets off the ground.

You’ll travel into space with Leonardo DiCaprio, prob­a­bly the big­gest male star in the world. Have the two of you had a chance to dis­cuss the flight?

We chat­ted for maybe ten min­utes in Cannes. We smiled at each other and shook hands. I in­vited him to a game of poker in space. I wish we could have talked for longer, but we’ll have our train­ing ses­sions to­gether soon any­way. I don’t know Leo that well but I do know the char­ac­ters he’s played. My favourite is con­man Frank Abag­nale in Spiel­berg’s

Catch Me If You Can. What kind of tech­ni­cal, phys­i­cal, even men­tal prepa­ra­tion does the flight in­volve?

We won’t be leav­ing the craft, which is ac­tu­ally a good thing as I al­ready know why I’ll go back into space. I’m in the fi­nal stages of ne­go­ti­a­tion with the Dutch firm SXC, the sec­ond company to send tourists into space. What tempted me was the pos­si­bil­ity of sit­ting in the pi­lot’s cabin un­der a four–me­tre–high glass ceil­ing. I should be in good company, with co–pas­sen­gers DJ Ar­min van Bu­uren and model Doutzen Kroes. So I’ll be mak­ing at least two trips into space.

Which sci–fi films or nov­els most stick in your mind?

I’m a thinker and a dreamer. Books are more im­por­tant to me than films, maybe be­cause I can imag­ine much more than the movie in­dus­try can put on–screen. I’ve read hun­dreds of fan­tasy nov­els, from Ray Brad­bury’s philo­soph­i­cal works to Harry Har­ri­son’s cos­mic sci–fi, but Jules Verne is still my favourite au­thor. From be­ing a child, I’ve loved all forms of ad­ven­ture. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, I be­lieve sci­ence fic­tion is fore­cast­ing the fu­ture. I don’t doubt for one sec­ond that ev­ery­thing de­scribed in th­ese books will hap­pen one

Vir­gin Galac­tic’s SpaceShipTwo space­plane willboldly go where no one hasgone be­fore.

Vasily Klyukin, 38, made his for­tune in the bank­ing businessand now de­signs fu­tur­is­tichigh– rises.

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