Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 15:23 UK

Cirque du Soleil show in space

By Irene Klotz
Cape Canaveral, Florida

Guy Laliberte (AFP)
Guy Laliberte will be the seventh fare-paying passenger into space

The founder of the Cirque du Soleil performance group plans an artistic show during his stay aboard the International Space Station next month.

"This will be a first artistic production being conducted from space to Earth," Guy Laliberte said in an interview from Star City, Russia, where he is preparing for the launch on 30 September aboard a Soyuz rocket.

The inspiration for the show, which was built around the theme of water, came from a poem, Mr Laliberte told BBC News.

"I'm an artistic person and a creator. I'm not a scientific. I'm not an engineer," he said.

"Life has given me some qualities, some assets and I have built up a team of very creative people around the world.

"With those people I think we'll present something that is originally creative and hopefully will have the result of sensitising people toward the situation of water in the world."

Mr Laliberte, who is 49, is scheduled to become the seventh fare-paying private citizen to journey into orbit.

He is using the flight to promote his non-profit environmental awareness organisation, One Drop.

"I think the artistic content (of the space-staged show) should be of great creativity and should be on the scale of what Cirque du Soleil has always done," Mr Laliberte said.

"I think it will also permit One Drop to position itself at the international level as a player in environmental issues."

Guy Laliberte in a Soyuz simulator (AFP)
Mr Laliberte initially turned down the offer of a trip into orbit

His team designed the show on relatively short notice.

The Canadian-based entrepreneur, who got his start as a street performer, decided on the trip less than five months ago.

On 31 March he stopped in his Montreal office to check his mail after a trip to Hawaii. He found a note from the US-based firm Space Adventures, which serves as a travel broker for orbital space flights from Russia.

He had originally inquired about flying in space in 2004, but backed out for personal reasons.

Space Adventures' letter said that there was seat available on the 30 September launch and wanted to know if Mr Laliberte was interested.

"I sent a letter right away: 'Thanks, but no thanks'," he recalled.

"(It was) the timing. This was in five months and I can't reorganise my life, my business."

He left for a family sailing holiday a couple of days later, but found his mind elsewhere.

"I was not able to sleep at all," Mr Laliberte said.

"I spent the night out there listening to music and looking at the stars, and by sunrise I said to myself 'this is an important opportunity knocking at my door'. I could not pass over that possibility."

Dream trip

The following Monday, he phoned Space Adventures and asked if the seat had been sold.

He then huddled with his family, his children, his girlfriend and his business associates to consider the offer.

Money, he said, was not a factor.

"I was surprised a little bit that the price [increased] since the first time. I looked into it, but in the end I said money was not the issue," said Mr Laliberte, who is believed to be paying about $30 million (£18 million) for the voyage.

"Of course I was not asked for $100 million," he added. "The price tag was within the window of what I was willing to pay. Everything else was a bigger factor than the money."

Cirque Du Soleil performer (AFP)
The theme of the space show will be water

In addition to his family's support, Mr Laliberte wanted to make sure Cirque du Soleil, which had a huge celebration planned for its 25th anniversary, could function well enough during the five months he would have to be away for training in Russia.

Once he decided to make the trip, he wanted to integrate a social action into the venture, an endeavour he calls his "poetic mission".

"To be honest, on a personal level, it would have been much easier if I had been going in space for myself, just a little kid who had a dream," said Mr Laliberte.

"It's tough enough to go through all the formation, the number of hours of preparation, the studying, the focus, the training - physical and mental.

"I had many other hours of preparing the project and also still conducting my family things and my business affairs, so I ended up not sleeping very much the past three and-a-half months.

Already, Mr Laliberte said, he had benefited tremendously from the experience.

"It's created enormous personal stimulus. I'll be 50 in September. This comes at a great time in my life.

"It's a personal challenge. It's provoking me, it's challenging me in many aspects.

"I think it could have a lot of residual results for not only myself but my family, my kids, Cirque and One Drop. I think it's an amazing project that could fulfil a lot of things."

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