LONGUEUIL, Que. – Quebec billionaire Guy Laliberte has promised not to be a burden or cause any trouble when he becomes Canada’s first space tourist during a 12-day stint aboard the International Space Station this fall.
“My first priority is to be able to take care of myself up there,” the Cirque du soleil founder said Thursday during a crew news conference at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
He was responding to a question during a link-up with the Canadian Space Agency, just south of Montreal, where reporters bombarded him with questions.
Laliberte, 49, said he discussed his own role with his two fellow space travellers in May, when he began training at Star City just outside Moscow.
“I don’t think I’ll be a burden, I’m committed, I’m a perfectionist and I intend to be ready,” he said.
“I intend to behave as a guest with good manners.”
Laliberte is scheduled to be launched into space Sept. 30 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, with cosmonaut Maksim Surayev and American astronaut Jeffrey Williams.
He is reportedly spending around US$35 million of his own money to visit the International Space Station.
Laliberte will become the seventh space tourist, courtesy of Virginia-based Space Adventures, which brokered the deals with Russian officials. The first six were software, technology and business types, making Laliberte the first professional artist set for space.
So far, his “amazing” training has been largely theoretical, but Laliberte expects it will now turn to the more practical side as he starts to perform flight simulations.
“It has been full weeks because I’m in an intensive training program, but until now it’s been a fantastic experience,” Laliberte said. “A lot of work, a lot of studying, but a lot of fun too.”
Laliberte will be dropping in on Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk, who is currently two months into a six-month stay on the giant space laboratory.
Thirsk is up there now with from fellow Canadian Julie Payette, who is on a 16-day visit to the space station.
It’s the first time there have been two Canadians in space at the same time.
Laliberte, who has five children, aged two to 12, says he has their full support and they even paid him a visit last week “to see where daddy was training.”
He admitted there will be some “very intense emotions” when he says goodbye before rocketing into space inside a Soyuz capsule from Kazakhstan.
Laliberte said he will use his trip to raise awareness about water issues.
His One Drop Foundation seeks to fight poverty around the world by providing sustainable access to safe water.
“I’m not a scientist, I’m not a doctor, I’m not an engineer,” Laliberte said.
“I’m an artist, I’m a creator and I’ll try to accomplish this mission with my creativity and what life has given me as a tool.”
Laliberte is also planning “an artistic event” and will release details in mid-August, although he doesn’t expect to be doing any fire-eating or stilt walking.
But the Quebec entrepreneur, who likes to gamble, said he may teach Thirsk and the other orbiting astronauts a few card tricks.
-with files from Associated Press.