STAR CITY, Russia — The man who plans on being "the first clown in space" said Thursday he's got some surprises planned for the crew of the international space station.
Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte told reporters he plans to tickle the professional astronauts while they're sleeping, and is also bringing red clown noses to try to lighten things up on the orbiting station.
"I'm a person with a pretty high spirit, who's there to crack jokes and make jokes to those guys, and while they're sleeping, you know, I'll be tickling them," Laliberte said.
The 50-year-old Canadian creator of the famed circus troupe is paying $35 million to blast off later this month on a Russian spacecraft, accompanying cosmonaut Maxim Surayev and astronaut Jeffrey Williams on the two-day journey to the station. The three spoke to reporters ahead of their flight to the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where Soyuz is scheduled to blast off from on Sept. 30.
Laliberte hopes his 12-day stay aboard the station will help raise awareness of drinking water problems around the world when he hosts the first multimedia event from the station on Oct. 9 to highlight that crisis.
On a lighter note, he pulled out a handful of red clown noses from his pocket that he plans to give to the station crew.
"This is the symbol of my mission, but it will also remind me that I should never forget I was once a kid," said Laliberte, a former tightrope walker and fire-eater who's been dubbed the "first clown in space."
The Quebec-born businessman is expected to be the last private paying tourist to visit the station for some time as NASA mothballs its space shuttle fleet and the U.S. space agency relies on Soyuz craft to get back and forth to the space station.
"At this moment the butterflies start to rise in my stomach," he said.
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