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"First Clown in Space" has Serious Goals

Cirque du Soleil impresario Guy Laliberte seen at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 4, 2009. Laliberte says his planned trip to the international space station will be a "poetic social mission" to help raise public awareness about environmental issues. Laliberte, founder of the hugely popular circus that melds art, grace and eros, is to take off Sept. 30 aboard a Russian space capsule as the seventh private citizen to pay for a stay on the orbiting station. The Canadian told a news conference in Moscow on Thursday that being "a private space explorer is an enviable and humbling feeling."
AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel
The Canadian billionaire who founded Cirque du Soleil wants to turn cosmonauts into clowns when he blasts into space this month.

Quebec-born philanthropist Guy Laliberte departs for the international space station Sept. 30 and is in training at a base outside Moscow.

He said in a video conference Wednesday from Star City that he hopes to use his 12-day stay aboard the orbiting laboratory to promote universal access to clean water.

Laliberte also said he plans to persuade fellow travelers to don red clown noses and is taking nine of them into orbit.

"Eventually maybe there will be a million up there, I don't know," he joked.

Laliberte paid $35 million for a seat on the Soyuz rocket, the same price as Charles Simonyi, the station's previous guest.

He will likely be among the last private visitors to the space station for a few years as NASA retires its shuttle program and turns to the Russian Space Agency to ferry U.S. astronauts to the space station, crowding out places for tourists.

Laliberte - a former tightrope walker and fire-eater - has been dubbed the "first clown in space."

Though a confessed thrill-seeker, Laliberte hopes his trip will be more of a spiritual journey than a cosmic joyride.

"Besides maybe the departure and the entrance, when maybe there will be some adrenaline, I foresee this as more of a spiritual experience than a physical experience," he said.

As for zero-gravity clowning around, he said "maybe I'll try to do some juggling act." But he ruled out fire-eating.

Laliberte, who turned 50 on Wednesday, has an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion.

From space he is planning to coordinate a string of shows in 14 cities around the world beginning Oct. 9, coinciding with his last few days in space, to attract publicity to his One Drop foundation, which is dedicated to providing access to water.

He says former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and performing artists Peter Gabriel, Shakira and Irish rockers U2 have confirmed their participation.

Laliberte has a 95 percent stake in Cirque du Soleil, which turned 25 this year.