Tuesday, June 02, 2009

From Street Performer to Space

The STS-125 crew is back in town! Today this writer ended up in the JSC cafeteria line right in front of spacewalker Michael Good. Just as we reached the front of the queue the cashier ran out of pennies and he patiently waited. All one could say to the Good man was, “Welcome back!”

While Kea is in Canada, perhaps she will run into Guy Laliberte. Rumour has it that Laliberte will be the next paid spaceflight participant, going up with TMA-16 in October. He left home at age 18 to hitch across Europe, performing on street corners as a stiltwalker and fire-eater. Laliberte enjoyed street performing and considered it a perfect art form. His skills led him to found the world-famous Cirque de Soleil. Today the street performer has a billion dollars in his cup.

Laliberte’s road to Space has been seeded by risk. The life of a street performer can be a rough one. The pay is unsteady and often low. We can be harassed, robbed, attacked and even arrested. In 1984 the troupe landed a contract to perform for Quebec’s 375th anniversary. Guy recalls, “We had every problem starting a big top could have. The tent fell down on the first day. We had problems getting people into shows. It was only with the courage and arrogance of youth that we survived.”

In 1987 Laliberte bet everything to perform at the Los Angeles Art Festival opening. “If we failed,” he recalls, “there was no cash for gas to come home.” The LA appearance was a success, leading to contracts and financial success. Tonight Cirque de Soleil has 6 shows running simultaneously in Las Vegas. In addition to his circus activities, Laliberte in 2007 placed 4th in the Las Vegas World Poker Tour.

Some people complain that NASA has become risk-averse, but Guy LaLiberte is no stranger to risk. His shows have entertained huge crowds and given him the wherewithal to follow his dreams. To explore the Universe, we must take risks. Guy Laliberte’s bravery and circus skills would be a welcome addition to Space.

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