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October 14, 2009

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Circus billionaire loves space ride home

CANADIAN circus billionaire Guy Laliberte said yesterday his return to Earth in a capsule engulfed by flame was the ride of his lifetime.

Laliberte landed on Sunday wearing his trademark clown's red nose after spending two weeks in space during which he hosted a show with singers, dancers and celebrities in 14 cities to raise awareness about the scarcity of clean water on Earth.

For the 50-year-old, who reportedly paid US$35 million for his space trip, it was his ride back to Earth that provided the most thrilling show.

"Mission accomplished," a relaxed and smiling Laliberte, a former fire-breather and street performer now worth an estimated US$2.5 billion, told a news conference at Russia's space training center outside Moscow. "That was the ride of my lifetime."

The ascent to the International Space Station was more of "an emotional and spiritual" encounter with something new, he said. "But coming back was really a ride!"

"You are going down and you are going through these blue layers and ... you start to see the sparks, and it's an amazing spectacle. For me as an entertainer, this was an amazing show."

"I'd go up there right away to just do it again, because it was such a great physical and adrenaline kick for me."

Laliberte returned from the ISS with Russian Gennady Padalka and American astronaut Michael Barratt, both of whom had spent almost seven months at the outpost.

He said he had tried to entertain the station's crew, though he confessed there was strict discipline on board which limited his clowning.

"For a person like me, who goes into such a busy environment, the last thing you want to do is to hit and damage some kind of equipment there," he said. "So my first steps there were very careful and actually day after day I was able to be in a more playful environment."

Laliberte was the seventh tourist to pay for a ticket to the ISS to enjoy weightlessness and the view of Earth.

But with the American space shuttles to be retired next year or early 2011, Russia bears the brunt of sending crews and cargo to the ISS, and Moscow says it does not know when the next tourist could fly into space.

"The (ISS) crew has now been expanded to six persons, and only professionals are to be launched," said Sergei Krikalyov, head of Russia's space training center.


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