The circus showman who bought a $35-million US ticket to the International Space Station said Tuesday it's been worth every penny — and more.
Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberté, the founder of Cirque du Soleil, said from orbit that riding a rocket and visiting the space station has been an amazing journey so far. He was launched into space last Wednesday from Kazakhstan.
The former stiltwalker and fire-eater said the best stunt he's pulled so far in space is hitting his head three times on the same day while trying to navigate in weightlessness.
"I promise that I will be better within the next couple days," he said.
As for the high cost, "yes, it's worth every penny and more, I believe, because over and above doing it for myself, there's a lot of other stuff that's going on," Laliberté said at a news conference.
He has organized a worldwide performance Friday night to draw attention to the planet's water crisis, and will take part by videotape. Participating from Earth will be former U.S. vice-president Al Gore and musicians U2, Peter Gabriel and Shakira, among others.
Laliberté — the first professional artist to fly in space — sighed when a journalist asked whether his mission was a $35-million publicity stunt. He calls it a "Poetic Social Mission" — the words were emblazoned on the white T-shirt he wore for the TV cameras.
"I never denied this was a moment to create awareness toward the situation of water in the world, toward foundation One Drop," he said, referring to the organization he created two years ago. "I don't have 25 years — the world doesn't have 25 years — to address the situation of water, so I think this was a great opportunity to combine a personal dream also, and having a greater benefit than just coming in space."
By the time Laliberté leaves the space station Saturday, he will have spent eight days at the orbiting outpost. He will return to Earth on Sunday aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft with two professional spacemen, a Russian and an American who have spent six months up there.
'So much to learn'
Laliberté, 50, said there's no way he could spend six months up there, even if he wanted to, "because I have to go back and create a show." He hinted that he might return for a shorter stay.
"There's so much to learn. There's so much to discover. There's so much to look at. It's just a great environment. So yes, I will spend more time, not probably six months, but those guys are the professionals, I'm not, eh?"
Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk said he's glad to have Laliberté on board, and there's no doubt the showman has livened things up in orbit. On Monday, all nine space fliers posed for pictures wearing the red clown noses Laliberté brought to the space station.
"Guy has the gift of being able to convey the magic part of being in space," Thirsk said. "We can talk about the benefits … about the science and the engineering that we're doing here. But Guy tells us and relates very well the excitement the emotional aspect of being here."
Even the former street performer has had difficulty coming up with the right words to describe the experience.
"Every moment I live right now, I don't have the time to process everything I'm experiencing — the magic of it," Laliberté said. "Right now, I'm absorbing everything. Right now, I have a big smile up to my ears."