Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté boarded the International Space Station on Friday morning and promptly donned his signature red clown nose.
Laliberté made the two-day journey in a Russian Soyuz craft along with Russian cosmonaut Maxim Surayev and U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams before docking with the space station 350 kilometres above the Earth.
The hatches opened a few hours later and the three entered the space station, to be welcomed by Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk, who is on a six-month visit, and five other astronauts.
Laliberté put on the red clown nose as he boarded the station and brought several other noses for the rest of the crew to wear.
He and his fellow space travellers smiled and waved to relatives and officials watching on a screen at Russian mission control as they entered the space station. Laliberté's children and partner, former model Claudia Barilla, broke into applause.
"I'm adapting pretty well. I love it," Laliberté told his family in French.
Laliberté chatted with his family in French for a while.
"Allo, Papou," his son said.
"Je t'aime, Papou," said his daughter.
"Je t'aime, moi aussi," Laliberté replied.
He jokingly apologized to the astronauts on the space station for hogging video conference time to talk to his children.
"Sorry, there is five of them," he said.
"We were happy he didn't get space sick," Barilla told The Associated Press after the video linkup, cuddling their two-year-old daughter.
9th Canadian in space
The 50-year-old circus billionaire reportedly paid $35 million for the trip, which has made him the seventh space tourist and the ninth Canadian in space.
He is expected to be the last private paying tourist to visit the station for some time, as NASA mothballs its fleet of space shuttles, and the U.S. space agency relies on Soyuz craft to get back and forth to the space station.
The self-dubbed first clown in space, Laliberté has said he will use his 12-day stay aboard the space station to raise awareness of drinking-water problems around the world.
While in space, the Quebec businessmen will host the first multimedia event from the station. The two-hour show, called Moving Stars and Earth for Water, will feature former U.S. vice-president Al Gore, and musicians including rock band U2. It is to be carried live on the website onedrop.org.
The Canadian entrepreneur founded the One Drop foundation in 2007 to fight poverty by providing access to safe water.
Laliberté reportedly started clowning around even before docking with the space station, entertaining Williams and Surayev with a zero gravity soap bubble show while still aboard the Soyuz capsule.
Laliberté is scheduled to return to Earth on Oct. 11. Williams, a three-time space traveller who recently became a grandfather, and Surayev, who is on his first space flight, plan to stay in orbit for 169 days.
"We are really proud of him," said Surayev's wife, Anna, who watched the docking with their two daughters. "Glad his dream came true, because it took him 12 years to achieve it."
Williams and Surayev are scheduled to help continue construction of the space station, where in-orbit work began in 1998.