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Billionaire plans space artistry

Expect some zero-G flips and twists — and some poetry as well — when Canadian circus founder Guy Laliberte flies to the international space station this fall.
Image: Canadian Guy Laliberte attends in press conference as next space tourist to the nternational Space Station
Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil and the One Drop Foundation, talks about his upcoming trip to the international space station on Thursday during a news conference in Moscow.Igor Kharitonov / EPA
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Expect some professional flips and twists when Guy Laliberte flies to space this fall.

The Canadian acrobat and founder of Cirque du Soleil is set to become the seventh private space explorer when he lifts off Sept. 30 aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft.

Laliberte booked his trip with the Russian Federal Space Agency through the U.S. firm Space Adventures, which usually charges about $30 million to $35 million for the excursions. Laliberte is set to visit the international space station for about 12 days.

Laliberte is calling his voyage the "first social/humanitarian mission in space," and says he is devoting his trip to raising awareness of worldwide water issues. In 2007 he founded the nonprofit One Drop Foundation, which fights for better access to clean water for people around the world.

"This is a mission that can make a difference and be true to my personality," he said Thursday at a news conference in Moscow. "We need to provide access to clean water where it is needed."

To get his point across, Laliberte plans to carry up a poem he co-wrote with a friend and read it from space. The piece is "a poem to planet Earth and its inhabitants in regard to the situation with water," he said. Laliberte has named his mission the "Poetic Social Mission in Space."

Laliberte, who described himself as a "fire-breather, entrepreneur, performer, partier," didn't provide details about how he would present his poetry reading. But he hinted that the presentation would involve more than reading words into a microphone.

"I'm working at this point on an artistic production project - an original one, I hope, that will surprise, will entertain and will achieve the goal of communicating in a massive way this poem," he said.

Laliberte, who turns 50 in September, has five children.

He is currently training in Russia's Star City cosmonaut training center to prepare for his mission. "The Russian Federal Space Agency really puts you through some tough tests," he said. "My main concern is to make sure that I am ready and I will not have to be baby-sat by my crew."

Travelling into space represents a childhood dream, Laliberte said, and he thinks the expense is absolutely worth it for the experience he will have and the impact he can make.

"I think this is one of the best investments anybody will have done to promote the awareness of water," he said. "Everything I will get out of that experience, I will bite in it like in a juicy apple."

The last space tourist to fly was Charles Simonyi, a Hungarian software executive who made his second paid trip to the space station in March, also through Space Adventures.

Laliberte could be the last private citizen to travel to space for a while. If NASA retires its space shuttle fleet in 2010 as planned, the Russian vehicles will be the only way to transport people to the international space station. In that case, available Soyuz seats could become scarce for space tourists — or "private space explorers," the term Laliberte prefers.

Laliberte will be making the eighth space tourist flight (he is the seventh private spaceflier, since Simonyi flew twice). Like all the other private spacefliers so far, Laliberte opted not to participate in a spacewalk, which would have cost an extra $15 million. He declined to say how much he was paying for the flight, but when a journalist mentioned the $35 million figure, he said that was "a price that's pretty similar to those that were recently negotiated."

Laliberte is part of Space Adventures' elite Orbital Missions Explorers Circle program, which requires a $5 million deposit to join, and allows members to skip to the head of the waiting list when flight opportunities become available. The September seat opened up when the Kazakh government canceled its reservation for a professional cosmonaut.

This report was supplemented by

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