June 4, 2009 / 5:11 AM / 8 years ago

Cirque du Soleil founder to become 7th space tourist

<p>Guy Laliberte, founder and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, arrives at the international gala premiere of Cirque du Soleil's new show "Zumanity" at the New York-New York Hotel &amp; Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, September 20, 2003.Ethan Miller</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte has found an out-of-this-world way to celebrate his 50th birthday -- blasting off into space.

The former fire-eater is on the countdown to become the world's seventh, and Canada's first, space tourist, slated to travel on a Russian Soyuz space craft to the International Space Station (ISS) in September. Chantal Cote, a spokeswoman for the Montreal-based circus troupe, said on Wednesday that Laliberte was all set to travel into space but would not provide further details before a press conference on Thursday.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) said it would give full details of the first philanthropic mission to the ISS by a private Canadian explorer on Thursday.

The announcement was to be made simultaneously in Moscow and in Longueuil, Quebec, which is the CSA headquarters.

Laliberte, 49, a Quebec billionaire who was listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2004, will be the seventh tourist to visit the multi-national orbiting space station since April 2001.

He founded Cirque du Soleil 25 years ago and currently owns 95 percent of the company, and is also a professional poker player. Laliberte turns 50 on September 2.

American computer software billionaire Charles Simonyi, 60, who made a fortune as Microsoft's lead software developer, has just returned from his second trip to the ISS.

He paid a total of $60 million for his two space journeys but tourists have paid up to $35 million for the trip, arranged by U.S. company Space Adventures.

The Russian federal space agency launches a Soyuz space craft to the station every six months to rotate the crew on the $100 billion orbital outpost that involves 16 countries.

It is during these missions that private citizens can pay to travel into space.

Cirque du Soleil, credited for revitalizing the circus industry with acrobats, live music and dance, began as a group of 20 street performers. The company now has more than 4,000 employees and this year will present 19 shows around the world to about 15 million spectators.

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy

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