Canadian circus billionaire heads to space station

By | September 30, 2009

Canadian circus billionaire heads to space station

Canadian circus tycoon Guy Laliberte turned space into his big top Wednesday, boarding a Russian rocket and lifting off on a mission that mixes a serious message on water shortages with some clowning around in the cosmos.

Laliberte, an experienced fire-eater and stilt-walker who founded Cirque du Soleil, joined Russian cosmonaut Maxim Surayev and American astronaut Jeffrey Williams aboard a Soyuz craft that soared off the Kazakh steppe and set a course for the International Space Station.

The billionaire who calls himself the first clown in space paid a reported $35 million for his nine-day stay at the station, where he plans to publicize the world’s growing shortage of clean water. His space extravaganza will culminate in a satellite linkup with shows in 14 cities across five continents featuring rock band U2 and Colombian pop star Shakira, as well as an appearance by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

With a puff of white smoke, the Soyuz craft carrying Laliberte and his crew mates shed its first rocket stage minutes after liftoff from the Baikonur launch facility and then disappeared from view.

Laliberte’s friends and family on the ground waited anxiously and then burst into cheers when an announcement that the ship had reached orbit blared over a loudspeaker. There were ecstatic hugs, sobs of relief and chants of “Guy! Guy!”

They then broke into an impromptu rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”

“I’m very happy for him. It’s amazing,” said Laliberte’s partner, former model Claudia Barilla, tears streaming down her face as she cradled their youngest son. “Now we know he’s up there.”

She wore a yellow clown nose as she watched the launch. Laliberte had donned a bulbous red nose before the launch and said he was taking nine of the novelty noses to the station for other occupants to wear. He has also mischievously warned he will tickle them in their sleep.

Also among the spectators was Quebec pop star Garou, a friend of Laliberte’s.

“I feel a lot more mesmerized than I ever thought I would be,” Garou said after the launch. “Having your friend rising up that fast and that impressively is beyond what I expected.”

An acrobat, fire-breather, philanthropist and a keen gambler, 50-year old Laliberte plans to use his trip to publicize the world’s shortage of clean water by holding a global artistic performance organized by his One Drop Foundation. The Quebec-born entrepreneur is worth an estimated $2.5 billion and holds a 95 percent stake in Cirque du Soleil, which he founded 25 years ago.

via Canadian circus billionaire heads to space station – Yahoo! News.

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