July 23, 2009 / 10:14 PM / in 8 years

Cirque du Soleil founder to be next space tourist

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - A Canadian billionaire who turned a passion for acrobatics and circus acts into a global entertainment empire will look for inspiration in space in September when he becomes the latest "space tourist."

Guy Laliberte, 49, founder of Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, which operates fast-moving cultural-themed circus shows, told reporters on Thursday his foray outside the Earth's atmosphere would be a "poetic, social mission."

Laliberte is preparing for a September 30 launch aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to become the seventh fare-paying tourist to the International Space Station. The cost of a 12-day trip is about $35 million. Most of the "tourists" who have gone before him were technology or business moguls.

"I'm not a scientist. I'm not a doctor. I'm not an engineer. I'm an artist. I'm a creator and I'll try to do and accomplish this mission with my creative ability and what life has given me as a tool," Laliberte told a news conference in Houston broadcast by NASA.

He said he would seek to "inspire myself as much as possible" in the weightless world of microgravity.

The father of five children, aged 2 to 12, said he wanted to use his space flight to raise awareness of the critical role water plays in people's lives on Earth.

"Water is a vital resource for a human being and unfortunately it is put in danger," Laliberte said.

"In the near future, there is real problem in front of us in regard to access to clean water. This is already the main cause of death existing on the planet. ... So I think it is important we become conscious of that as citizens of planet Earth. So I give myself a mission of talking about it," he said.

TESTS ON SHUTTLE FUEL TANK

Aboard the International Space Station on Thursday, astronauts used a new Japanese-built robot arm to install two science experiments and an antenna that will allow Japan to communicate directly with the station. The gear was attached to a new outdoor platform put in place during the first of five spacewalks planned during shuttle Endeavour's ongoing mission.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, also ordered another round of tests on the fuel tank earmarked for its next shuttle launch in August. Endeavour shed a large amount of insulating foam from its tank during its climb to orbit on July 15.

NASA wants to make sure it understands what happened before it will clear its next shuttle for flight.

The agency learned from the Columbia accident in 2003 that debris can impact the shuttle during launch and fatally damage its heat shield. Seven astronauts were killed when Columbia broke apart from a heat shield breach as it flew through the atmosphere for landing.

NASA has seven shuttle missions remaining after Endeavour's to complete construction of the space station, a $100 billion project of 16 nations.

Endeavour is due back at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 31.

Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Peter Cooney

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