Guy Laliberté has taken his act on the road. On Sept. 30, the billionaire founder of psychedelic entertainment group Cirque du Soleil blasted into space aboard a Russian rocket. Cost of the ride: $35 million.
His trip, organized through American exploration outfit Space Adventures, lasted 12 days, including a nine-day stay at the International Space Station. Laliberté used part of his time in orbit to promote his clean water charity One Drop, and the rest garnering international media attention, hamming it up in front of cameras wearing a red foam clown nose.
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Nine days into his trip, the marketing master, who turned a gang of Quebec street performers into a live entertainment powerhouse and amassed a $2.5 billion fortune in the process, put on a two-hour Web show featuring him in space and celebrities Bono, Salma Hayek, Shakira and Al Gore on Earth. He returned to solid ground this week.
Bored with the ordinary hobbies of everyday life, billionaires have embarked on adventures and extreme endeavors only a tycoon can afford. They craft million dollar boats for a single race, journey thousands of miles in hot air balloons to set world records and develop rockets to create their own space agencies.
To prepare for his space mission, Laliberté spent five months in Russia's Star City practicing simulations, learning Russian and undergoing intense cardiovascular training to get in space shape. He also studied how to read and work instruments on the shuttle and space station; although he had no official duties during the mission, he needed to be able to lend a hand to Russian cosmonauts in case of an emergency.
Virgin billionaire Richard Branson is creating his own private space agency. His nascent commercial orbital travel company, Virgin Galactic, will start carrying passengers out of Earth's atmosphere for $200,000 per ticket in 2011. Total flight time: 2.5 hours.
Branson has broken records on the sea and in the air. In 1986 his motorboat "Virgin Atlantic Challenger II" broke the speed record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean in three days, eight hours and 31 minutes. A year later he became the first person to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon. He was the first to balloon across the Pacific Ocean in 1991. He failed in his quest to be the first to circumnavigate the globe by balloon when Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones completed the journey in 1999.
Roger Penske got his adrenaline boosts from extreme sports before he earned his ten-figure-fortune. Prior to building his massive auto empire, Penske raced for a living. In the early 1960s, Penske competed on both the Formula One and NASCAR circuits, winning Sports Illustrated's Driver of the Year award in 1962.
He retired in 1965 to focus on building his Philadelphia Chevrolet dealership. Today Penske Corp. controls Penske Auto Group, plus trucking and logistics companies. The billionaire is still in the racing game; Penske Racing, with more than 300 wins, is one of most dominant teams in the history of auto racing.
Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison and Swiss biotech tycoon Ernesto Bertarelli are gearing up to race each other in sailing's prestigious America's Cup this winter. Already, the battle on land has gotten ugly. Two-time winner Bertarelli ignored Ellison's request for a rematch, instead picking an unknown Spanish club as his next challenger. Ellison sued for the right to race. The legal war lasted two years. In May, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled Ellison would get his shot on the water. The race will take place off the shores of Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates in February.
Ellison supporters claimed Bertarelli attempted to skew the rules of the America's Cup to his own advantage, while Bertarelli's camp accused Ellison's team of spying on his race facilities. Bertarelli's racing team, Alinghi, posts cartoons on its Web site showing Ellison's boat sinking under the weight of legal texts and the tech titan trying to buy the America's Cup trophy over the Internet.
Ellison has spent more than $100 million on his quest to join the ranks of Ted Turner and William Koch--two other billionaire winners of the America's Cup. Cable mogul Turner won in 1977, while the Koch Industries heir and head of Oxbow captured sailing's biggest prize in 1992.