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Canadian circus billionaire blasts into space

By Shavkat Rakhmatullayev and Shamil Zhumatov

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - Canadian circus billionaire Guy Laliberte blasted off in a Russian Soyuz spaceship from Kazakhstan on Wednesday to become the world's seventh space tourist.

The 50-year-old former fire-breather and founder of the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil paid more than $35 million for the privilege of flying to the International Space Station (ISS) from the Baikonur cosmodrome on the Kazakh steppe.

The Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft blasted into clear blue skies at 0714 GMT (3:14 a.m. EDT). "He's just said 'Super!', he's very happy," Russian cosmonaut and crew member Maxim Suraev said of Laliberte.

The Canadian gave the thumbs-up as a toy lion belonging to Suraev's daughter bounced from a string in the capsule.

The three-man crew was due to dock with the International Space Station two days later.

Laliberte, who turned a passion for acrobatics and circus acts into a global entertainment empire, wants to find inspiration in the weightless world of space and promote the importance of access to clean water on Earth.

He plans to take nine clown noses into orbit and hold a performance broadcast live on the Internet on www.onedrop.org on October 9, linking 14 cities across the world to underline the importance of access to water.

Laliberte owns 95 percent of Cirque du Soleil, which he founded in 1994, and Forbes estimates his fortune at $2.5 billion.

He is accompanied by Suraev and U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams.

U.S. billionaire Charles Simonyi made history in March when he became the first space tourist to make the epic journey twice, also from the Baikonur cosmodrome.

(Additional reporting by Aydar Buribaev at Star City outside Moscow; Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Michael Stott)

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