Space Clown to Lighten Mood In Orbit

Space Clown to Lighten Mood In Orbit
Guy Laliberte clowns around during training for his space tourist flight to the International Space Station. (Image credit: Space Adventures/ONE DROP Foundation)

Former circus performer Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirquedu Soleil, expects to have some fun when he launches to space Wednesday, butalso has serious side to his self-proclaimed "poetic social mission."

Laliberte, a 50-year-old former acrobat and the firstCanadian space tourist, is headed for the International Space Station and has dedicatedhis flight to publicizing global water issues through a creative performance tobe broadcast from orbit.

"We're doing a multimedia event - the first one fromspace to Earth - including artists from all over the world talking about thesituation of water," Laliberte said.

The soon-to-be spaceclown is set to fly on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the BaikonurCosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Laliberte booked his trip with the Russian FederalSpace Agency through the U.S.firm Space Adventures and is reportedly paying about $35 million for thespaceflight. Liftoff is set for 3:14 a.m. EDT (0714 GMT) Wednesday.

Laliberte will spend about 12 days in space during his trek tothe InternationalSpace Station. His Soyuz crewmates, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams andRussian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, will stay onboard the orbiting laboratory tobegin their own long-duration mission.

Stilt-walking and fire-eating

The Qu?bec City-born Laliberte began his career hitchhikingacross Europe as a street performer, specializing in accordion playing,stilt-walking and fire-eating. He founded a circus in Quebec before starting upCirque du Soleil in 1984. The world-wide spectacle is famous for its blend ofartistic expression and acrobatic showmanship, and unique for its lack of aring or animals.

Though some air-borne acrobatics are certainly apossibility, Laliberte said that fire-eating,at least, will be off limits to him during his spaceflight. He also plans towear his trademark red clown nose, and perhaps share some with his crewmates onthe station.

"This [nose] is a symbol of my mission, but it is alsowhat 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'mbringing 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 onboardthe 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 hewill have and the impact he can make.

Laliberte is also an accomplished poker player. In April2007 he finished fourth in the World Poker Tour Season Five event at theBellagio in Las Vegas. He has five children, ages 2 to 12.

Poetic social mission

In addition to his passion for the arts, Laliberte hasnurtured a passion for social issues. In 2007, he founded the non-profit ONEDROP Foundation to fight poverty by advocating for sustainable access to safewater. Laliberte donated $100 million of his own money to theorganization, which uses dance, art, music and acrobatics to communicate waterissues.

"Water is a vital resource for a human being andunfortunately it is put in danger," Laliberte said. "In the nearfuture there is a real problem in front of us in regards of access to cleanwater."

Laliberte plans to use his trip to space as an opportunityto stage amassive 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 thespace station, broadcasting it online at and

Simultaneously, artists in 14 cities around the world willalso perform and speak live in front of huge screens showing Laliberte inspace. Personalities including former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, PeterGabriel, 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, andTampa.

"People should see that as a moment where the voices ofthe world are unifying in a specific moment and participating at an eventtogether to talk about water," Laliberte said. "This is a moment ofgreat friendship, of great artistic rendering, I believe, and hopefully this artisticproject will touch people."

Laliberte is chronicling his spaceflight via the One DropFoundation Web site:

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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.