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September 30, 2009

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Billionaire plans to play some tricks as first clown in space

THE man who hopes to be the first clown in space, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, said yesterday he would tickle fellow astronauts as they sleep aboard the International Space Station.

But the impish billionaire, who also plans to hand out clown noses to the crew, says his US$35 million excursion into orbit will have a more serious purpose: promoting awareness of the world's growing shortage of clean water.

Laliberte and two other astronauts spoke with reporters as they prepared for today's launch in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, appearing behind a glass barrier to limit exposure to disease.

The trip from the Baikonur launch facility to the orbiting laboratory is to take two days.

The 50-year-old Canadian plans a global broadcast from the space station on October 9 to promote his One Drop Foundation, which seeks to raise awareness of the threat to global water supplies.

Former United States Vice President Al Gore and Colombian pop star Shakira are among the activists and celebrities expected to contribute to the broadcast, to be shown on the foundation's Website.

The performance "will be a poem that will be read to the population on Earth in 14 different cities, across five continents," Laliberte said.

"When I first started Cirque du Soleil, I dreamed of seeing all 6 billion people on the planet wearing that little red nose, which for me is symbolic of happiness," he said. "After 25 years, I realize it is not just a question of a clown nose, it is about having a glass of clean water every day."

He said he had been tickling his fellow astronauts during training, and planned to tickle them in their sleep aboard the space station.

"I'm going there with my sense of humor and my belief that even if sometimes in life we have to do hard work, there is always room to keep humor present," he said.

Astronauts Maxim Surayev of Russia and American Jeffrey Williams will be in the Soyuz capsule with Laliberte for the launch.

Laliberte's stay on the space station is scheduled to last nine days. Surayev and Williams are due to remain until March, and Williams will take over as commander of the orbiting lab in November.

The coming months will be busy, Surayev said, with the planned arrival of three delivery craft and two US shuttles, as well as around 50 experiments planned.

Recent missions have expanded the space station's capacity, allowing for a permanent population of six.

Departure of the current occupants over the next few months, however, will leave Surayev and Williams as the only crew for around three weeks at the end of this year.


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