Guy Laliberte clowns around during training for his space tourist flight to the International Space Station.
Credit: Space Adventures/ONE DROP Foundation
Former circus performer Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil, expects to have some fun when he launches to space Wednesday, but also has serious side to his self-proclaimed "poetic social mission."
Laliberte, a 50-year-old former acrobat and the first Canadian space tourist, is headed for the International Space Station and has dedicated his flight to publicizing global water issues through a creative performance to be broadcast from orbit.
"We're doing a multimedia event - the first one from space to Earth - including artists from all over the world talking about the situation of water," Laliberte said.
The soon-to-be space clown is set to fly on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Laliberte booked his trip with the Russian Federal Space Agency through the U.S. firm Space Adventures and is reportedly paying about $35 million for the spaceflight. Liftoff is set for 3:14 a.m. EDT (0714 GMT) Wednesday.
Laliberte will spend about 12 days in space during his trek to the International Space Station. His Soyuz crewmates, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, will stay onboard the orbiting laboratory to begin their own long-duration mission.
Stilt-walking and fire-eating
The Qu?bec City-born Laliberte began his career hitchhiking across Europe as a street performer, specializing in accordion playing, stilt-walking and fire-eating. He founded a circus in Quebec before starting up Cirque du Soleil in 1984. The world-wide spectacle is famous for its blend of artistic expression and acrobatic showmanship, and unique for its lack of a ring or animals.
Though some air-borne acrobatics are certainly a possibility, Laliberte said that fire-eating, at least, will be off limits to him during his spaceflight. He also plans to wear his trademark red clown nose, and perhaps share some with his crewmates on the station.
"This [nose] is a symbol of my mission, but it is also what reminds me that I should never forget that once I was a kid," Laliberte said. "I'm not a professional cosmonaut, an astronaut, so what I'm bringing up there is what I am. And what I am is an artist, a creative."
He said he plans to offer some comic relief while onboard the station, making jokes and pulling pranks on his fellow crewmates.
Travelling into space represents a childhood dream, Laliberte said, and he thinks the expense is worth it for the experience he will have and the impact he can make.
Laliberte is also an accomplished poker player. In April 2007 he finished fourth in the World Poker Tour Season Five event at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He has five children, ages 2 to 12.
Poetic social mission
In addition to his passion for the arts, Laliberte has nurtured a passion for social issues. In 2007, he founded the non-profit ONE DROP Foundation to fight poverty by advocating for sustainable access to safe water. Laliberte donated $100 million of his own money to the organization, which uses dance, art, music and acrobatics to communicate water issues.
"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."
Laliberte plans to use his trip to space as an opportunity to stage a massive event to tout the importance of clean water. On Oct. 9 at 8:00 p.m. ET (0000 GMT) he plans to perform a poetic fairy tale about water from the space station, broadcasting it online at Onedrop.org and AOL.com.
Simultaneously, artists in 14 cities around the world will also perform and speak live in front of huge screens showing Laliberte in space. Personalities including former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Peter Gabriel, Shakira, and U2 are set to perform from Montreal, Moscow, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Marrakesh, Sydney, Tokyo, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, and London, as well as the U.S. cities New York, Santa Monica, and Tampa.
"People should see that as a moment where the voices of the world are unifying in a specific moment and participating at an event together to talk about water," Laliberte said. "This is a moment of great friendship, of great artistic rendering, I believe, and hopefully this artistic project will touch people."
Laliberte is chronicling his spaceflight via the One Drop Foundation Web site: Onedrop.org
- Video - Acrobat Space Tourist on Flight Training
- Video - Charles Simonyi: World's 1st Repeat Space Tourist
- Image Gallery - Charles in Space!