Circus tycoon Guy Laliberté becomes first clown in space
Cirque du Soleil founder takes off for International Space Station bearing red noses for astronauts
A Soyuz capsule carrying Laliberté and two astronauts lifted off on schedule from the Baikonur launch facility atop a Russian rocket.
Laliberté, the US astronaut Jeffrey Williams and the Russian cosmonaut Maxim Surayev got a rousing send-off from friends and family at the Russian launch facility on the Kazakh steppe. They are expected to arrive at the orbital outpost on Friday.
Laliberté, 50, plans to help publicise the world's growing shortage of clean water. But he's also doing his best to make the trip fun. The entertainer donned a bulbous red clown nose before boarding the capsule and brought several of the novelty noses for his crewmates.
Laliberté, who plans to spend 12 days in space, paid $35m (£22m) for his flight. He has a 95% stake in Cirque du Soleil, a circus arts and theatre performance company that turned 25 this year.
The entertainment tycoon has said he will try to persuade his fellow spacemen to don red clown noses.
Laliberté may be one of the last private visitors to the space station for several years as Nasa retires its shuttle programme and turns to the Russian space agency to ferry US astronauts to the orbiting lab, crowding out places for tourists.
Eric Anderson, the chief executive officer of Space Adventures, said his company would try to make sure at least three tourists could visit the space station each year, despite the shuttle's scheduled retirement.
"I keep hearing that space tourism is ending and it never seems to be true," Anderson told the Associated Press.
One way to keep the programme alive would be to increase the number of Russian Soyuz missions, Anderson said.So we will have to rely upon the Russians to get our astronauts into space when we retire the shuttles. And then....?