STAR CITY, Russia (Reuters Life!) - The Canadian billionaire who turned his traveling circus into an entertainment empire, said on Thursday he would fly into space later this month to show a fairy tale dream can come true.
A street artist and then founder of Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberte, 50, will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) on September 30 aboard a Russian Soyuz spaceship after paying $35 million to become the world’s No. 7 “space tourist”.
Former fire-breather Laliberte, who owns 95 percent of Cirque du Soleil that he founded in 1984, is estimated to have a self-made fortune of $2.5 billion, according to www.forbes.com.
“My dream — at first as a kid — was not necessarily to go into space. My dream was about living in a fairy tale,” Laliberte, who will spend about two weeks in space, told a news conference at a space training center outside Moscow.
But this changed all of a sudden when television showed U.S. astronauts alighting from a spaceship on the moon in 1969, said Laliberte who will head to Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for final pre-flight preparations this weekend.
“This is what motivated me all my life ... and the dreams of traveling came, and this was an important idea a couple of years ago (that was) presented to me, and I decided to jump into a fairy tale.”
Laliberte, known worldwide for his innovative circus shows, is taking nine clown noses into orbit to drag the station’s entire crew into yet another novel performance, to be webcast live on www.onedrop.org site on October 9.
But his philanthropic show will be a serious one. Laliberte said he wants to promote the importance of access to clean water in a world where millions of people in developing countries lack it and water-borne illnesses are a real problem.
The two other members of the crew due to fly to the ISS along with Laliberte are U.S. Commander Jeffrey Williams and Russian Flight Engineer Maxim Suraev.
During their nearly half-a-year mission aboard the multi-billion-dollar space outpost, Williams and Suraev will be part of a permanent expanded crew of six and will have to complete the on-orbit construction which started in 1998.
“As we transition into full utilization of the space station now, the results of that will enable us to go beyond and leave Earth orbit,” Williams said. “None of us know how and who is going to do that, but I suspect there will likely be an international partnership to do so.”
The ISS will receive several cargo ships from Russia, the United States and Japan. Williams and Suraev will make several spacewalks to assemble new modules and conduct about 50 scientific experiments.
Apart from the pictures of their families, Suraev said the crew would be taking a tiny fluffy toy lion to orbit. He said the mascot would be dangling above the crew’s heads during the lift-off, experiencing Earth gravity.
Once the toy starts floating in weightlessness, the crew and mission control back to Earth will know that the ship’s third stage has separated successfully and the capsule is in orbit.
For Suraev, the tiny orange lion is bigger than just an improvised weightlessness indicator.
“My two daughters have been taking turns, sleeping with the toy,” he said. “It is very important for me that it smells of my house in space during those six months I am there.” (Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Paul Casciato)