Canadian circus tycoon makes journey into space

Wed Sep 30, 2009 5:03am EDT
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By Shavkat Rakhmatullayev and Shamil Zhumatov

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - Canadian circus billionaire Guy Laliberte blasted off in a Russian Soyuz spaceship from Kazakhstan on Wednesday to become the world's seventh space tourist.

The 50-year-old former fire-breather and founder of the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil gave the thumbs-up after the Soyuz TMA-16 spaceship blasted into clear blue skies in a faultless launch at 0714 GMT (3:14 a.m. EDT) from the Baikonur cosmodrome on the Kazakh steppe.

The three-man crew is due to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) on October 2.

Laliberte has paid more than $35 million for the epic journey, in which he plans a webcast linking 14 cities across the world to draw attention to the importance of access to clean water on Earth.

"He's just said 'Super!', he's very happy," Russian cosmonaut and crew member Maxim Suraev said of Laliberte shortly after take-off. Laliberte wore a clown's red nose as he boarded a bus taking him to the spaceship, and a toy lion belonging to Suraev's daughter bounced from a string in the capsule.

Laliberte, who turned a passion for acrobatics and circus acts into a global entertainment empire, described his trip as "the first poetic social mission in space."

"I needed it to be the right time and for the right purpose," he was quoted as saying by flight organizer Space Adventures. "This is the time. And the purpose is clear: to raise awareness on water issues to humankind on planet earth."

The webcast will be carried live on on October 9. Laliberte is due to return on October 11.   Continued...

<p>Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte shows a victory sign before entering a spacecraft at the Baikonur cosmodrome September 30, 2009. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov</p>