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Stilt-walking Cirque du Soleil founder turns space tourist

Quebec fire-breather blasts off in September

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The stilt-walking, fire-breathing founder of Cirque du Soleil is set to become Canada's first space tourist later this year.

Quebec-born billionaire Guy Laliberté will make a 12 day visit to the International Space Station in September courtesy the Russian space agency, in a flight estimated to cost at least $30m (£18.6m).

Laliberté will blast off towards the orbiting research platform aboard the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft alongside Russian cosmonaut Maksim Surayev and American astronaut Jeffery Williams. He claims the purpose of his trip is to raise awareness of water issues on Earth in what he calls "the first poetic social mission in space."

The multi-million deal was brokered by space tour operator, Space Adventures.

"I am honored and humbled today with my new description: humanitarian space explorer," Laliberté said in a statement. "Traveling has always been my way of life and I have been researching the possibilities of space travel with Space Adventures since 2004. But I needed it to be the right time and for the right purpose. This is the time. And the purpose is clear: to raise awareness on water issues to humankind on planet earth. My mission is dedicated to making a difference on this vital resource by using what i know best: artistry."

Laliberté says his "humanitarian" plan is to carry up a poem he co-wrote with a friend and to read it from space. He will be the seventh private citizen to pay his way into orbit.

The last space tourist aboard the ISS was Charles Simonyi, a Hungarian software designer who made his fortune as the lead developer on Microsoft's Word and Excel. Simonyi completed his second trip to the space station this April. ®

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