- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009

MOSCOW | Canadian circus tycoon Guy Laliberte returned to Earth on Sunday, wearing his trademark red clown nose, when a Soyuz capsule carrying him and two astronauts landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan.

“Everything took place normally and on time,” said Vitaly Lopota, head of Energia, the Russian state-owned company that designs the Soyuz capsule, in televised remarks.

“The crew is feeling excellent,” he added.

The capsule, which was also carrying Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and U.S. astronaut Michael Barratt, landed just after 10:30 a.m. near the Kazakh town of Arkalyk, the Russian federal space agency said.

Russian television showed the capsule with its orange-and-white parachute touching down in the sprawling Kazakh steppe and teams of space-agency workers carrying out the space travelers.

Mr. Padalka was seen eating an apple, being covered with a blanket and saying, “Thank you, thank you,” as he was greeted by the landing team.

Mr. Laliberte wore his red clown nose as he was carried out of the capsule, television pictures showed.

The 50-year-old billionaire had worn the nose aboard the International Space Station and in media appearances before liftoff.

Mr. Laliberte’s return marks the end of an extraordinary 11-day journey that brought a comic touch to the usually serious world of space travel.

A former stilt-walker and fire-eater, the Quebec native is the founder of the Cirque du Soleil and the seventh person in history to spend millions of dollars from a personal fortune to fly into space.

The Cirque du Soleil, which Mr. Laliberte founded in 1984, fuses acrobatics with music and has made him the world’s 261st-richest man with a fortune of $2.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Mr. Laliberte has not disclosed how much he paid for the trip, though the last space tourist, U.S. software pioneer Charles Simonyi, paid $35 million for the privilege.

Two days before landing, Mr. Laliberte presided over an artistic event that took place in 14 cities around the world and was designed to draw attention to water conservation.

The event involved Irish rock star Bono, Hollywood actress Salma Hayek, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, whales and ballerinas.

The chief executive of Space Adventures, the U.S.-based company that organizes space-tourist trips, on Sunday praised Mr. Laliberte’s efforts to promote his One Drop foundation.

“We are tremendously proud of Guy for using his skills as a creator and artist to raise awareness for the important issue of sustainable water on Earth,” Space Adventures head Eric Anderson said.

However, the extravagant show was also sniped at by critics who said the money would have been better spent on digging wells in Africa.

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