Is the media clowning around?

Tomorrow morning a Soyuz rocket is scheduled to launch to the ISS a NASA astronaut, Roskosmos cosmonaut, and a space tourist, Guy Laliberté. Or rather, a clown, Guy Laliberté. That’s based on some of the recent media coverage, where Laliberté is almost exclusively referred to, in the headline or early in the story, as a clown. Examples range from Russia Today and RIA Novosti to and the BBC.

But is that a fair—or useful—description? Yes, he has a predilection for red clown noses and has promised to tickle fellow ISS crew members as they sleep, but calling him a clown makes it all seem a bit too silly. After all, he isn’t a clown full-time: he owns and operates a major entertainment company, Cirque du Soleil, that has made him a billionaire. The BBC, at least, calls him a “circus entrepreneur”—after calling him a “space clown” in the headline—which seems a more accurate description of him.

Also, he’s stated that he’s not going into space for clowning around or entertainment alone: he plans to, in effect, MC a global concert called the “Poetic Social Mission” to raise awareness about the needs for clean water. Just today Cirque du Soleil announced additions to the roster of participants, from actor Matthew McConaughey to singer Joss Stone. IT would seem that, in organizing this event, Laliberté isn’t clowning around.

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