A former fire-eating circus performer promised to leave his matches at home when he blasts off for the International Space Station this fall as the next space tourist.
Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, a Canadian billionaire who began his career as a street entertainer, said he does hope to try a few tricks in space, but fire-eating will not be one of them. He is paying a reported $35 million for the space tourist trek, which is slated to launch Sept. 30.
?I would take out the fire part. I think this is out of the question, by far,? said Laliberte, 49, with a smile in a televised NASA briefing Thursday. He?s not sure how stiltwalking, another of his talents, would work in weightlessness either.
Open flames aren?t allowed inside the space station, though astronauts have a special box where they can light small fires as part of an experiment.
Laliberte will launch to the space station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft with two professional spaceflyers, a NASA astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut. He is the seventh person to buy a ticket to visit the space station, but his mission is the eighth private flight since one space tourist - American billionaire Charles Simonyi - made the trip twice.
The private treks to space are arranged under deals between Russia?s Federal Space Agency and the Virginia-based company Space Adventures. Laliberte?s trip is expected to last about 12 days.
But Laliberte is promising more than a mere orbital joyride. He is dedicating his mission to increasing awareness about global water issues through the non-profit One Drop Foundation, which he founded in 2007.
?Water is a vital resource for a human being and unfortunately it is put in danger,? Laliberte said. ?In the near future there is a real problem in front of us in regards of access to clean water.?
That lack of access to clean water is one of the leading causes of death on the planet, Laliberte said, making it a pressing issue that he hoped to publicize during the spaceflight. He plans to announce his full mission plan in August.
The space station is currently home to a core six-person crew, but its population swelled to 13 last week when the shuttle Endeavour arrived with its own crew of seven astronauts. Endeavour is due to depart the station next week and land July 31.
Laliberte is somewhat of a departure from the space tourists that that came before him. They made their fortunes in business or technology, while Laliberte touted his creative side.
?I'm not a scientist. I'm not a doctor. I'm not an engineer,? he said. ?I'm an artist. I'm a creator, and I'll try to do and accomplish this mission with my creative ability and what life has given me as a tool.?
Laliberte added that while he hopes to increase awareness of water issues, he does expect to enjoy the experience as well. He?ll try some circus tricks and perhaps show astronauts on the space station some card tricks while savoring the spaceflight. ?
There are probably some tricks about living in space that professional astronauts can show him as well, he added.
?I think I will be more like a kid in a candy store out there, discovering things that those guys know,? Laliberte said.
Guy Laliberte is chronicling his spaceflight and OneDrop Foundation at his Web site: http://www.onedrop.org/
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