BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan - The man who hopes to be Canada's first space tourist, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, said Tuesday he would tickle fellow astronauts as they sleep aboard the International Space Station.

But the impish Quebec billionaire, who also plans to hand out clown noses to the crew, says his $35 million excursion into orbit will have a more serious purpose: promoting awareness of the world's growing shortage of clean water.

Laliberte and two other astronauts spoke with reporters as they prepared for Wednesday's launch in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, appearing behind a glass barrier to limit exposure to disease.

The trip from the Baikonur launch facility to the orbiting laboratory is to take two days.

Humanitarian theme

The 50-year-old Canadian tycoon plans a global broadcast from the space station Oct. 9 to promote his One Drop Foundation, which seeks to raise awareness of the threat to global water supplies.

Former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore and Colombian pop star Shakira are among the activists and celebrities expected to contribute to the broadcast, to be shown on the foundation's Web site.

The performance "will be a poem that will be read to the population on Earth in 14 different cities, across five continents,'' Laliberte said.

"When I first started Cirque du Soleil, I dreamed of seeing all six billion people on the planet wearing that little red nose, which for me is symbolic of happiness,'' he said. "After 25 years, I realize it is not just a question of a clown nose, it is a question of having a glass of clean water every day.''

Tickle tricks

He told reporters he had been tickling his fellow astronauts during training, and planned to tickle them in their sleep aboard the space station.

"I'm going there with my sense of humour and my belief that even if sometimes in life we have to do hard work, there is always room to keep humour present,'' he said.

Astronauts Maxim Surayev of Russia and American Jeffrey Williams will be crammed into the Soyuz capsule with Laliberte for the launch.

Laliberte's stay on the space station is scheduled to last nine days.