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'First clown in space' promises to bring humour to astronauts

The man who plans to be "the first clown in space" has said he will liven up the atmosphere on the international space station by playing pranks on the astronauts.

Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil, told reporters he plans to tickle the professional astronauts while they're sleeping, and he's will also bring a consignment of red clown noses aboard.

"I'm a person with a pretty high spirit, who's there to crack jokes and make jokes to those guys, and while they're sleeping, you know, I'll be tickling them," Mr Laliberte said.

The 50-year-old Canadian creator of the circus group is paying $35 million to blast off later this month on a Russian spacecraft, accompanying cosmonaut Maxim Surayev and astronaut Jeffrey Williams on the two-day journey to the station.

The three spoke to reporters ahead of their flight to the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where Soyuz is scheduled to blast off from on Sept. 30.

Mr Laliberte hopes his 12-day stay aboard the station will help raise awareness of drinking water problems around the world when he hosts the first multimedia event from the station on Oct. 9 to highlight that crisis.

On a lighter note, he pulled out a handful of red clown noses from his pocket that he plans to give to the station crew.

"This is the symbol of my mission, but it will also remind me that I should never forget I was once a kid," said Mr Laliberte, who began his entertainment career as a tightrope walker and fire-eater.

The Quebec-born businessman is expected to be the last private paying tourist to visit the station for some time as Nasa prepares to take the space shuttle fleet out of operation.