Red-nosed circus billionaire returns to Earth

KOROLYOV, Russia (Reuters) - Canadian circus billionaire Guy Laliberte returned to Earth on Sunday wearing his trademark clown’s red nose, landing as planned in Kazakhstan after a landmark space performance to highlight water scarcity.

A Russian Soyuz space capsule carrying Laliberte and a Russian-American crew touched down in the vast steppe near Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan at 8:31 a.m. Moscow time (12:31 p.m. EDT).

“We have just received a report from the rescue and recovery team that the descent capsule has landed,” said an announcer at Mission Control outside Moscow, to hearty applause from workers.

Laliberte, a former fire-breather and founder of the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, spent about two weeks in space.

A Reuters reporter at Mission Control, watching a live feed from the landing site, saw Laliberte seated on a chaise longue after leaving the craft. He smiled and gave a thumbs-up gesture.

He was draped in a coat with a blanket covering his legs and his blood pressure was being monitored by the rescue and recovery team. A Russian Orthodox priest also was present.

The 50-year-old, who is worth an estimated $2.5 billion and was reported to have paid more than $35 million to become Earth’s No. 7 space tourist, entertained the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) and hosted a show from the space outpost.

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The show, aimed at highlighting the scarcity of clean water for people in many parts of the world, involved singers, dancers and celebrities in 14 cities around the world. Organizers called the “Moving Stars and Earth for Water” spectacle the first of its kind to be hosted from space.

“In space, they didn’t lose their interest in earthly life and food,” said Igor Ushakov, director of the Moscow-based Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, which monitors the health of Russian cosmonauts.

“As you can see, they are uplifted and in a great mood. You cannot play this up.”

Laliberte was accompanied by Russian Gennady Padalka, Expedition 20 commander of the ISS, and U.S. Flight Engineer Michael Barratt, whose space odyssey lasted for more than half a year.

Padalka was first to emerge from the capsule, which was charred on re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. He drank a cup of tea and took a bite from an enormous apple presented to him.

During the space show, Irish singer Bono chatted with Laliberte from a U2 concert in Florida, while Cirque du Soleil acrobats gave water-themed performances from Montreal and Las Vegas.

Dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet also performed from Moscow in a show streamed on the Internet and broadcast on satellite TV in the United States, Canada and Latin America.

Writing by Robin Paxton in Moscow, editing by Michael Roddy.