Star City, Russia (AFP) Sept 10, 2009
The billionaire founder of the Cirque du Soleil show said Thursday he was ready to realise a boyhood dream of going to space as he prepared to blast off with two professional astronauts this month.
Canadian citizen Guy Laliberte, 50, will visit the International Space Station (ISS) for a two week mission as the latest "space tourist" to spend millions from a personal fortune on going to orbit.
Laliberte, a former fire-eater and stiltwalker who gave up performing 20 years ago, said he had been in "bad shape" when he arrived at Star City outside Moscow for training, but was now ready thanks in part to his sense of humour.
"I am very happy and privileged to be taking part on this journey," he told reporters at a news conference at the Star City cosmonaut training centre before leaving for the launch site in Kazakhstan.
He recalled that when, as a boy, he watched Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the moon in 1969, he started to believe that "the fairy tale that was being told could come to life."
"I decided to take the opportunity and live the fairy tale."
Laliberte has not disclosed how much he paid for the trip, although the last space tourist, US software pioneer Charles Simonyi, paid 35 million dollars (28 million euros) for the privilege.
After returning to Earth, Laliberte said he would unveil the results of the first "artistic event from space to earth". He is taking nine red clown noses to space -- one for each member of the crew.
Without giving too much away, Laliberte said he would bring back a "poetic text" that would then become the basis for an artistic performance.
His enthusiasm was shared by Russian cosmonaut Maksim Surayev, who will also be making his first trip to space and sternly told the press not to describe Laliberte as a tourist.
"It's become fashionable to speak of space tourists. He is not a tourist but a participant in the mission."
Surayev said he had spent over a decade preparing for his first flight, adding that cosmonaunts are a "like a good cognac" in that they grow in strength with time.
He revealed that among the personal items that cosmonauts are traditionally allowed to carry will be a cuddly toy owned by his two young daughters to remind him of home during the half-year mission.
He said his family would be present at the launch so they understand "why I am away from home so much."
US astronaut Jeffrey Williams, a veteran of two space flights and now a grandfather, said he was "honoured" to be travelling to the ISS at a vital time when the arrival of new modules would finally bring the facility to full capacity.
The crew will blast off from Kazakhstan's Baikonour cosmodrome on September 30.
When they dock with the ISS, the station's crew will increase to nine members before Laliberte returns to Earth with Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and Michael Barrett of the United States.
The Russian Soyuz spacecraft has grown in importance for the United States as it will be as the sole means of restaffing the ISS when NASA's three remaining shuttles are retired in September 2010.
This will limit space for paying passengers and it is not clear whether further tourists will follow Laliberte into space for some time. Williams said a shuttle mission later in the year would be providing parts to keep the ISS going during its absence.
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The future first clown in space to advocate for water
Montreal (AFP) Sept 2, 2009
Cirque du Soleil founder and soon to be space tourist Guy Laliberte will launch an art project promoting access to potable water for all when he blasts off for the International Space Station, he said Wednesday. The multimedia event is scheduled to start at 1200 GMT on October 9 and will touch 14 cities on five continents, he told a video press conference from Star City, Russia where he has ... read more
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