The story appears on

Page A11

October 1, 2009

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » World

Two astronauts and one clown blast off on space station trip

A CANADIAN circus tycoon, an American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut blasted off in a spacecraft from the Kazakh steppe yesterday on a journey to the International Space Station.

Minutes after lifting off from the Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan, the Soyuz capsule shed its rocket stages and entered orbit. On board were Cirque du Soleil founder and space tourist Guy Laliberte along with crew members Jeffrey Williams and Maxim Surayev.

Friends and family on the ground cheered and hugged one another when an announcement that the ship was in orbit came over the loudspeaker. They chanted "Guy! Guy!" and broke out singing Elton John's "Rocket Man."

Laliberte, dubbed the first clown in space, had donned a bulbous red nose and blew kisses to supporters before the launch. He paid US$35 million for the trip he plans to use to publicize the world's growing shortage of clean water.

"I'm very happy for him. It's amazing," said Laliberte's partner, former model Claudia Barilla, tears streaming down her face as she cradled her young son in her arms. "Now we know he's up there."

She wore a yellow clown nose as she watched the launch. Laliberte brought several clown noses for crew mates aboard the station and has impishly warned he would tickle them while they slept.

Footage of the capsule showed crew members Williams and Surayev strapped in, operating the controls and occasionally waving for the camera.

A mission control official communicating with the astronauts said they were in excellent spirits, and a NASA TV announcer said they were "safely in orbit."

"We were worried, because this has been a tough road - 12 years of hard training," first-time space traveler Surayev's wife, Anya, said at Baikonur. "But we are pleased, happy and proud that the liftoff went off without a hitch."

The Soyuz TMA-16 craft is scheduled to arrive tomorrow at the International Space Station, orbiting 355 kilometers above Earth.


Laliberte - who rose from being a street performer to founding the circus arts and theater company Cirque Du Soleil 25 years ago - is to return to Earth after 12 days. The 50-year-old is worth an estimated US$2.5 billion and holds a 95 percent stake in the circus company.

Laliberte's enthusiasm seemed to infect others ahead of the launch preparations. As the crew members climbed up the ladder into the capsule, Surayev began singing the pop song "Mammy Blue," and Laliberte and Williams joined him.

Among the spectators was Quebec singer Garou, a friend of Laliberte.

"I feel a lot more mesmerized than I ever thought I would be," Garou said after the launch. "Having your friend rising up that fast and that impressively is beyond what I expected."

Surayev, 37, and Williams, 51, plan to stay in orbit for 169 days. Williams is on his third space mission and recently became a grandfather.

"I'm glad he's up there - that's what he wanted to do," said his wife, Anna-Marie. "Now all the training is behind us and he will just go up and do the mission."

The Soyuz team is scheduled to help continue construction of the space station, where in-orbit work began in 1998. Recent missions have expanded the station's capacity to allow six inhabitants.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend