September 11, 2009

Billionaire Space Tourist Prepares To Live His Childhood Dream

Billionaire Guy Laliberte, the founder of the Cirque du Soleil show, said on Thursday that his trip next month to the International Space Station (ISS) would fulfill his boyhood dream of space travel, AFP reported.

The 50 year-old entrepreneur "“ who spent millions from his own personal fortune to become the latest "space tourist" "“ said he was ready to blast off on the two-week mission into orbit.

Laliberte said he was in bad shape when he arrived at Star City outside Moscow for training, but was now prepared for the journey.

He told reporters at a news conference at the Star City cosmonaut training center he was very happy and privileged to be taking part in the mission.

As a boy, Laliberte watched Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the moon in 1969 and then started to believe that "the fairy tale that was being told could come to life."

"I decided to take the opportunity and live the fairy tale," he said.

U.S. software pioneer Charles Simonyi, the former space tourist, paid $35 million to join a mission. Laliberte has not disclosed how much he paid for the privilege.

Laliberte said he would unveil the results of the first "artistic event from space to earth" after returning to Earth. He is taking nine red clown noses to space for each member of the crew.

Laliberte hinted that he would bring back a "poetic text" that would then become the basis for an artistic performance.

Russian cosmonaut Maksim Surayev, who will also be making his first trip to space, shared Laliberte's enthusiasm and told reporters not to describe Laliberte as a tourist.

"It's become fashionable to speak of space tourists. He is not a tourist but a participant in the mission," said Surayev.

Surayev said cosmonauts are traditionally allowed to carry a few personal items on the mission.  He said he would be taking a cuddly toy owned by his two young daughters to remind him of home during the half-year mission.

U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams said he was "honored" to be traveling to the ISS at a vital time when the arrival of new modules would finally bring the facility to full capacity.

The September 30 launch site will be at Kazakhstan's Baikonour cosmodrome.

The ISS crew will increase to nine when the new members arrive.  Laliberte will eventually return to Earth with Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and Michael Barrett.

For the United States, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft will be the sole means of re-staffing the ISS when NASA's three remaining shuttles are retired in September 2010.

Since room on the ships will be limited, it is unsure whether paying passengers like Laliberte will be able to continue making the trips.

"Another shuttle mission later in the year will be providing parts to keep the ISS going during its absence," said Williams.


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