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Stage flight: How Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte launched himself into space

Billionaire and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte about to embark on his visit to the International Space Station in 2009. REUTERS

Stage flight: How Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte launched himself into space

The story of how Canadian billionaire Guy Laliberte launched himself from Montreal busker to astronaut by way of Cirque du Soleil.

Stage flight: How Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte launched himself into space

As he approached his 50th birthday, Guy Laliberté looked like he had it all.

He’d gone from being a busker on the streets of Montreal, Canada, to founding and performing in the uber-successful Cirque du Soleil, which over the years had brought him success, fame and fortune.

He was missing a challenge, however, and when he heard that ‘regular people’ could apply to be space tourists and visit the International Space Station 400km from earth, he realised this was the challenge he’d been searching for.

Laliberté applied for a position and after some time, was accepted onto the 12-day trip. The price tag? A reputed $35 million.

His profession meant he was no stranger to potential danger.

“You have to make sure there’s no fear you are bringing with you. That means you evaluate the danger that is comprised in such a trip and make your decision before you go ahead. My main concern through my preparation was to make sure I was ready and that I wouldn’t have to be babysat by my crew.”

Laliberté underwent intense physical, mental and technical training before he was allowed to join the mission. “It was intense…there was lots of hours.”

Eating on board, he says, was a mixed experience:

“In our ship, there were five different nationalities and we all got to bring a bonus food container with us, a special thing we liked. We had Japanese food, shrimp, foie gras, Italian food, – everybody shared.

“Because the gravity is different, you can throw up a little bit and it floats up to your mouth but you have to be careful that it doesn’t just spread out. When you break up crackers into little pieces, they can just fly up!”

Even though Laliberté said everyone slept in boxes that felt like coffins, the former circus performer called his trip to space the realisation of a childhood dream and “one of the nicest experiences I’ve ever had”.

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