October 13, 2009 / 2:02 PM / in 8 years

Canadian circus tycoon savors space ride "spectacle"

STAR CITY, Russia (Reuters) - Canadian circus billionaire Guy Laliberte said on Tuesday his return to Earth in a capsule engulfed by flame was the ride of his lifetime.

<p>Ground crew members assist Canadian circus billionaire Guy Laliberte (C) after he returned in the Russian Soyuz Space Capsule near the town of Arkalyk, in northern Kazakhstan, October 11, 2009. REUTERS/Yuri Kochetkov/Pool</p>

Laliberte landed last Sunday wearing his trademark clown’s red nose after spending two weeks in space during which he hosted a show with singers, dancers and celebrities in 14 cities to raise awareness about the scarcity of clean water on Earth.

For the 50-year-old, who reportedly paid $35 million for his space trip, it was his ride back to Earth that provided the most thrilling show.

“Mission accomplished,” a relaxed and smiling Laliberte, a former fire-breather and street performer now worth an estimated $2.5 billion, told a news conference at Russia’s space training center outside Moscow. “That was the ride of my lifetime.”

The ascent to the International Space Station (ISS) was more of “an emotional and spiritual” encounter with something new, he said. “But coming back was really a ride!”

“You are going down and you are going through these blue layers and ... you start to see the sparks, and it’s an amazing spectacle. For me as an entertainer, this was an amazing show.”

“I’d go up there right away to just do it again, because it was such a great physical and adrenaline kick for me.”

Laliberte returned from the ISS with Russian Gennady Padalka and U.S. astronaut Michael Barratt both of whom had spent almost seven months at the outpost.

He said he had tried to entertain the station’s crew, though he confessed there was strict discipline on board which limited his clowning.

“For a person like me, who goes into such a busy environment, the last thing you want to do is to hit and damage some kind of equipment there,” he said.

“So my first steps there were very careful and actually day after day I was able to be in a more playful environment.”


Laliberte was the seventh space tourist to pay for a ticket to the ISS to enjoy weightlessness and the view back to Earth.

But with the U.S. space shuttles to be retired next year or early in 2011, Russia now bears the brunt of sending crews and cargo to the ISS and Moscow says it does not know when the next wealthy tourist could fly into space.

The number of manned missions launched to the space outpost aboard the Russian-made Soyuz spaceships has doubled to four this year. The permanent ISS crew has also doubled to six astronauts from three.

“The space crew has now been expanded to six persons, and only professionals are to be launched,” Sergei Krikalyov, head of Russia’s space training center, told the news conference.

“No new launches of space tourists are planned in the near future,” he said, adding that the next space mission, for ISS crew, would be launched in December.

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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