Real estate entrepreneurs dive to Mariana Trench, fly with SpaceX

Larry Connor

The Connor Group

Larry Connor, the head of the Ohio-based real estate company The Connor Group, committed to fly to the International Space Station earlier this year. But before Connor starts his astronaut training, he first dives to the bottom of the ocean.

Connor is working with deep-sea specialist EYOS Expeditions to explore both the Challenger Deep and the Sirena Deep of the Mariana Trench in the DSV limitation factor of the Triton submarines next week. Then, in January 2022, Connor will be the pilot for Axiom Space’s 10-day AX-1 mission to the ISS, flying on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

“I’ve never had time or money, but I’ve always had a passion for exploring and trying to do groundbreaking research,” Connor told CNBC about his upcoming missions. “I’m not a scientist, but I believe the private sector can do incredible things to help all people.”

Connor said EYOS Expeditions reached out to him shortly after the AX-1 mission was announced and asked him if he would cover some of the cost of an upcoming mission in exchange for the trip as a co-pilot and a mission specialist.

“You have done groundbreaking research in the Mariana Trench over the past few years [and] You want to continue, but it’s very expensive, “said Connor.” In all honesty, I knew nothing about deep sea exploration … but the more I learned, the more convinced I became that these people were perfectly professional, and that it was, could and could be done safely, and that research was indeed would be valuable. “

Although Connor may not be a scientist, his passion for research makes him “lucky that I have done many unusual things”.

The Connor Group operates in 15 US cities, which the entrepreneur attributes to “an incredibly talented and experienced group” who will keep the company running throughout his travels.

The DSV limiting factor of the deep-sea submarine can be seen above the deck of the ship DSSV Pressure Drop.

Triton submarines

He will travel to Guam next Monday, with the first dive in the Challenger Deep on Wednesday or Thursday – dropping more than 35,000 feet into the extreme environment of the deep seabed.

A few days later Connor will dive back into the Sirena Deep – “where there were only two people so far,” he said.

“Our challenge will be to map part of the bottom and find out where no one has been. We assume this is a long dive – probably 13 to 15 hours in total,” said Connor.

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

When the real estate entrepreneur visited Triton Submarines Florida headquarters last week to watch a simulator and get basic training, he said the “short answer is, you really don’t exercise” for this type of deep-sea mission.

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

He would only be the third person in history to travel to either of them, as former NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan was the first – and the first woman – to dive to Challenger Deep in August 2020 earlier last month.

Fly into space early next year

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

NASA / Joel Kowsky

While the deep sea dive came together for Connor in a few months, he has been researching flying into space for almost seven years.

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

“It will be the first private mission to the International Space Station, and in my opinion we will get it right,” said Connor. “We’re going to do it by professional astronaut standards, we’re going to do the training because I think we have a chance but a real commitment to get it right.”

Connor said he and López-Alegría will have two weeks of additional training over and above the 15-week training the entire crew is slated to begin this fall.

He said the crew had visited Elon Musk’s company headquarters once to get dressed for their spacesuits. He described the facility as a “hive of activity” and said he was “impressed by the masses of really talented, dedicated people I got a sense of, working crazy hours making groundbreaking things happen.”

He owed NASA its experience in human space travel as well as the fact that it turned to private companies to begin flying astronauts frequently and efficiently.

“In my experience, you have to involve the private sector if you want to move things really quickly, whether it goes to the bottom of the ocean or into space,” said Connor.

SpaceX’s crew Dragon Endeavor was docked with the International Space Station on July 1, 2020.

NASA

Connor also realized that AX-1 is the first purely private trip to the ISS, but still “very expensive”.

“But hopefully in 20, 30, 40 years – whether we go to the bottom of the ocean or into space – it will be far more accessible for people to follow the value of research,” Connor said.

When he asked advice from young entrepreneurs, his answer was simple.

“Aim high. Never set limits. Never set an upper limit to what you can do. The impossible is only impossible when you think it’s impossible,” said Connor.

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