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international space station, Guy Laliberte, space tourism, space, NASA
The International Space Station.

Cirque du Soleil Founder Will Be Seventh Space Tourist

July 24, 2009 05:00 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Guy Laliberte, Quebec billionaire and founder of Cirque du Soleil, will travel to the International Space Station in September, becoming the first artist—and just the seventh tourist—to visit space.

Circus Man Set for Space

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Guy Laliberte attended the NASA space show in Cape Canaveral, Fla., this week to prepare for his upcoming space vacation, The Associated Press reports.

According to the AP, Laliberte, a “former stiltwalker and fire-eater,” has allegedly paid $35 million to travel aboard a Russian spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) from Kazakhstan. The mission, organized by Space Adventures, Ltd., is scheduled to launch on Sept. 30. Space Adventures, a Virginia-based company, is “the only company that provides human space missions to the world marketplace,” according to its Web site.

Laliberte will be the seventh space tourist, and the first professional artist among a group of “software, technology and business types,” the AP reports. The circus performer is excited about the tricks and “acrobatics in weightlessness” he will be able to perform in space. “I think I will be more like a kid in a candy store up there, discovering things that those guys know. Because I know what I can do on Earth,” he told the AP.

Background: Virgin’s space tourism

In July 2008, Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire owner of the megabrand Virgin, and aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, unveiled the spacecraft carrier WhiteKnightTwo. The spacecraft is set to launch in late 2009, after all flight tests have been completed. Up to 250 passengers paying $200,000 each are waiting for their six minutes of weightlessness, which the trip promises.

Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, described what a flight aboard the WhiteKnightTwo would be like. “[Y]ou get on board … in your entirely carbon-composite spaceship,” he told The Independent. “You’re lifted to 50,000ft. You’re then dropped, a rocket fires, and within six seconds you’re doing the speed of sound, within about 20 seconds you’re at nearly 3,000mph, and you climb up into space and you get up to about 70 miles above the earth.”

Mike Peathe of The Sunday Times of London, on the other hand, doesn’t see the appeal of the experiment. “What Branson is selling is actually a $200,000 trip to nowhere,” Peathe wrote. Weighing the benefits of the voyage against its high cost, Peathe concludes that the trip comes out lacking. “[Y]ou don’t get to bring home any mementos, apart from some digital snaps of you being all weightless, which quite frankly a 12-year-old could knock up in Photoshop,” he added.

Related Topic: Maintenance on the space station

According to the AP, crewmembers Christopher Cassidy and Thomas Marshburn installed new batteries on the space station on Friday. The spacewalking astronauts worked 220 miles above Kazakhstan to replace the batteries on the far left end of the station.
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