Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte, an acrobat-turned-space tourist, is getting used to floating in weightlessness on the International Space Station and said Tuesday that the trip was more than worth the multimillion-dollar price tag.
"Yes, it's worth every penny," a smiling Laliberte told reporters via a video link, adding that weightlessness has been a joy even though he did smack his head on the ceiling three times in one day.
Laliberte, the founder of the Cirque du Soleil, paid a reported $35 million for his 12-day trip to space, arrived at the orbital lab Friday. Since then he has been settling into his new home 220 miles above Earth and making friends with the other eight spaceflyers aboard the station.
"What I've been experiencing here has been an amazing journey so far, from takeoff to arrival to adaptation," Laliberte said during Tuesday's press conference. "There's so much to learn, there's so much to discover, there's so much to look at."
His trip is not just a vacation, though. Laliberte has planned an ambitious performance event for Oct. 9 to communicate the importance of water conservation, an issue he campaigns for through the ONE DROP non-profit organization he started.
Laliberte plans to use all his circus-staging skills to coordinate a simultaneous webcast featuring himself and other artists broadcasting from 14 cities around the world. He and the performers will recite a poetic story about water written by Canadian author Yann Martel.
"This [is] a moment to create awareness toward the situation of water in the world," Laliberte said. "I don't have 25 years, the world don't have 25 years to address the situation of water."
In addition to preparing for the event, Laliberte has been familiarizing himself with the space station and getting to know his crewmates.
"There's so much equipment here and it's very impressive and I just don't want to knock any of those computers out," he said. "But day after day I get more comfortable. Plus I'm meeting some great people here. I'm spending the time to learn a little bit more about space exploration and I'm very fascinated about it."
For their part, the professional astronauts working at the station seem to enjoy the company of a space clown.
"I don't think that Guy Laliberte is here just for fun," said Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne of the European Space Agency. "He's spreading a lot of awareness that water is a scarce resource. I think spaceflight for citizens in general should become more and more common. The more people that could travel to space and see also how vulnerable our planet could be the better it would be for our entire planet. I encourage very much people like Guy Laliberte joining us on these missions."
Laliberte launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft Sept. 30 on a trip booked with the Russian Federal Space Agency through the American company Space Adventures, which has brokered seven previous tourist flights. Laliberte is set to return to Earth aboard a Soyuz Oct. 11.
Laliberte is chronicling his Poetic Social Mission using Twitter ("ONEDROPdotorg"), Facebook and the Web site: OneDrop.org.
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