TORONTO — Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte is set to become Canada's first paying space passenger when he travels on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in September.
A spokeswoman for the circus troupe, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the trip Wednesday to The Canadian Press.
The 49-year-old Laliberte is in Moscow for Thursday's official announcement, which will be made simultaneously at the Canadian Space Agency's headquarters near Montreal.
Laliberte's net worth was listed as $2.5 billion in Forbes' magazine's 2009 roundup of the world's billionaires. Forbes reported that the Quebec native is divorced with five children. He is also known as a celebrity on the international poker circuit, occasionally playing in televised card tournaments.
Laliberte would become the seventh private citizen to visit the international space station since April 2001. Past visits by paying space passengers have lasted anywhere from a week to 12 days. The quoted rate for the trip aboard the Soyuz has risen over the past eight years from $20 million to $35 million or more.
The schedule calls for Laliberte to fly to the station alongside Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev and NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams on a Soyuz "taxi" flight, then return to Earth on a different Soyuz with the station's current commander, Russia's Gennady Padalka, and NASA's Michael Barratt.
Laliberte's visit, like the earlier multimillion-dollar trips, is being brokered by Virginia-based Space Adventures. In January, Russian space chief Anatoly Perminov said there would be no more "tourist" trips to the space station, but September's seat opened up when the Kazakh government canceled its reservation to fly a professional cosmonaut. Perminov now says "this form of tourism will continue." (The paying spaceflight participants generally prefer calling themselves "private explorers" rather than space tourists.)
Laliberte will become the third Canadian to visit the international space station this year. One astronaut, Robert Thirsk, is there now for a long-duration stay. Another Canadian, Julie Payette, is due to visit the station this month during the shuttle Endeavour's construction visit.
This report includes information from The Associated Press and msnbc.com.
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