Laliberte buoyant before space launch

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan — Even in a sterile quarantine bay, the world’s first space clown couldn’t resist the urge to perform.

Two days before he is to blast off for the International Space Station, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte today cracked jokes, donned his trademark red nose and flashed with enthusiasm over the venture that he wants to be both entertaining and educational.

“In my life I have been doing a lot of fun, crazy and adventurous things, but this is totally the biggest adventure I have ever embarked on,” the Canadian told The Associated Press by telephone from behind the glass wall protecting him and two other astronauts from contamination at Russia’s Baiknour Cosmodrome.

“Like many kids, I grew up in the generation of space exploration. But I remember that back then, what overcame me was not the desire to travel in space, but the belief that fairy tales were possible, and that kind of shaped my way of seeing life,” he said.

Other space tourists have used their time at the space station to conduct scientific experiments, but Laliberte has different aims for his 12 days aboard the orbiting lab.

“I am not a scientist, I’m not a doctor, I’m not an engineer,” he said. “I’m an organizer, a showman, and a creator — I have an entertaining personality, so that is really what I am bringing here.”

Laliberte has promised to bring each crew member of the International Space Station a clown nose to wear, but plans to take two along for himself: one red, one yellow — “the yellow one I will wear when I am a little grumpy, and the red one I will wear when I am happy and joyful.”

The voyage to the space station begins Wednesday, when Laliberte blasts off for the two-day trip aboard a Soyuz space capsule with astronauts Maxim Surayev of Russia and American Jeffrey Williams from the Kazakh steppes. The rocket and capsule were hoisted onto the launch pad today — the same launch pad from which Yuri Gagarin left in 1961 on the first human trip into orbit.

Laliberte, 50, started as a street performer and rose to an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion after founding the innovative and globally popular Cirque du Soleil. The trip to the International Space Station is costing him $35 million.

He sees the expenditure in part as effective marketing opportunity.

“I am the type of person who is always trying to maximize an investment, and this is the 25th anniversary of Cirque du Soleil, which will be a celebration for us,” he said.

But along with that, Laliberte also aims to use the trip to promote awareness of world water supply problems.

On Oct. 9, he will lead a “poetical social” performance from aboard the International Space Station for the One Drop Foundation, an organization he set up in 2007.

“I start with the simple idea of reading a poem, which will involve characters like the sun, the moon and a drop of water,” he explains. “Those characters will then engage in a discussion, which will take the form of a little poetic story that we will read to the population of earth.”

Activists and celebrities, including former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Colombian pop star Shakira, are to contribute to the performance from 14 cities worldwide, and all of it is to be shown on the foundation’s Web site.

On the Net:

One Drop Foundation home page: ONEDROP.org

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