Real estate entrepreneur aims to be the first to reach space and the ocean floor in a year

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Larry Connor

The Connor group

Larry Connor, the head of the eponymous Ohio-based real estate company The Connor Group, signed earlier this year to travel to the International Space Station. But first, before starting his astronaut training, Connor will dive to the bottom of the ocean.

Connor is teaming up with deep sea specialist EYOS Expeditions to explore both the Challenger Deep and Sirena Deep in the Mariana Trench next week in the Triton Submarines DSV Limiting Factor submersible. Then, in January 2022, Connor will pilot Axiom Space’s 10-day AX-1 mission to the ISS, flying on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“I never had the time and never had the money, but I always had a passion for exploration and trying to do groundbreaking research,” Connor told TBEN of his upcoming assignments. . “I’m not a scientist, but I believe the private sector can do amazing things to help everyone.”

Connor said EYOS Expeditions contacted him shortly after the AX-1 mission was announced, asking if he would help cover some of the costs of an upcoming mission – and, in return, join the journey as a co-pilot and mission. specialist.

“They have been carrying out groundbreaking research in the Mariana Trench for the past two years [and] they want to keep going, but it’s very expensive, “said Connor.” Frankly, I didn’t know anything about deep sea exploration… but the more I learned, the more I became convinced that these people were absolutely professional, and that it could and could be done safely, and that the research would actually be useful. “

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Although Connor may not be a scientist, he considers himself “lucky because I have done a lot of unusual things” due to his passion for exploration.

The Connor Group has a presence in 15 US cities, which the entrepreneur attributes to “an immensely talented and experienced group” who will ensure the continuity of the business during his travels.

The underwater DSV limiting factor in the high seas is seen above the deck of the DSSV vessel Pressure drop.

Triton submarines

Next Monday he will travel to Guam, with the first Challenger Deep dive on Wednesday or Thursday – descending over 35,000 feet in the extreme environment of the deep ocean floor.

A few days later, Connor will dive again, at Sirena Deep – “where there have only been two humans before,” he said.

“Our challenge will be to try and map some of the bottom and explore where no one has been before. We expect it to be a long dive – probably 13 to 15 hours in total,” said Connor.

The DSV Limiting Factor submarine has a small cabin, about four and a half feet wide by four and a half feet high, for its two passengers. “It’s literally a titanium bullet that you sit in,” Connor said.

Visiting the Triton Submarines headquarters in Florida last week to check out a simulator and get some basic training, the real estate entrepreneur said, “The short answer is, you really don’t train for that kind of high-level mission. sea.

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Connor aims to be the first person to travel to both the deepest part of the ocean and outer space within 12 months.

He would only be the third person in history to travel to both, as former NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan became the first – and first woman – when she dived at Challenger Deep in August 2020, the Private astronaut Richard Garriott becoming the second on a dive earlier last month.

Fly into space early next year

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket about to launch the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is seen ahead of the Demo-2 mission with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on board.

NASA / Joel Kowsky

Although deep sea diving took place in a matter of months for Connor, he has been researching space flights for almost seven years.

The AX-1 mission will be led by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, as well as two mission specialists from former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe and Canadian investor Mark Pathy.

“This will be the first private mission to the International Space Station and, in my opinion, we’ll do it right,” Connor said. “We’re going to do it according to professional astronaut standards, we’re going to do the training, because I think we have an opportunity but a real obligation to do it right.”

Connor said he and López-Alegría will receive two additional weeks of training, beyond the 15 weeks of training that the full crew plans to begin in the fall of this year.

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He said the crew had traveled once so far to Elon Musk’s company headquarters to set up their spacesuits, describing the facility as “a hive of activity” and saying he had been “struck by the masses of really talented and committed people who, I had a sense for, were working crazy hours to make things happen.”

He thanked NASA for its experience with human spaceflight, as well as for turning to private companies to start piloting astronauts frequently and efficiently.

“In my experience, if you really want to get things done at a fast pace, you have to involve the private sector, whether it’s on the ocean floor or in space,” Connor said.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavor seen docked at the International Space Station on July 1, 2020.

NASA

Connor also acknowledged that while the AX-1 may be the first completely private trip to the ISS, it remains “very expensive.”

“But I hope – by doing what we believe is an initial investment – in 20, 30, 40 years, whether it’s on the ocean floor or in space, it will be much more accessible to people, to go. along with the value of research, ”said Connor.

Asked about his advice to young entrepreneurs, he gave a simple answer.

“Aim high. Never set limits. Never cap what you can do. The impossible is impossible only if you think it is impossible,” said Connor.

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