Archdeacon: Connor working hard in space, says he has ‘responsibility to get it right’

Dayton businessman Larry Connor speaks from the International Space Station on Friday about the long days of experiments the crew is doing, the importance of the trip, and his happiness to soon return to Ohio. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF

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Dayton businessman Larry Connor speaks from the International Space Station on Friday about the long days of experiments the crew is doing, the importance of the trip, and his happiness to soon return to Ohio. Tom Archdeacon/STAFF

Miami Twp. businessman is scheduled to splash back into the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday afternoon.

He showed he was connected to some things going on back here on Earth, but not everything.

Larry Connor wore a bright red Dayton Flyers polo shirt when he spoke to me from the International Space Station on Friday afternoon, but he admitted he had not realized Easter was this Sunday until someone told him earlier in the day.

Connor — the founder and managing partner of the lucrative, Miami Twp.-based Connor Group real estate investment firm, a well-known Dayton philanthropist, lifelong adventurer and avid Dayton Flyers supporter — was seven days into what’s become a 12-day, Axiom-1 mission to the ISS.

He’s the pilot of the historic flight.

The four-man crew — which includes commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut, Canadian businessman Mark Parthy and Eytan Stibbe, a former Israeli fighter jet pilot turned entrepreneur — is the first all-civilian, commercial-funded crew to visit the ISS.

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The crew of the Axiom Mission 1, first-ever all civilian flight to the International Space Station. From left, pilot Larry Connor, mission specialist Mark Pathy, commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and mission specailst Eytan Stibbe. Photo by Chris Gunn for Axiom Space

The crew of the Axiom Mission 1, first-ever all civilian flight to the International Space Station. From left, pilot Larry Connor, mission specialist Mark Pathy, commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and mission specailst Eytan Stibbe. Photo by Chris Gunn for Axiom Space

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The crew of the Axiom Mission 1, first-ever all civilian flight to the International Space Station. From left, pilot Larry Connor, mission specialist Mark Pathy, commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and mission specailst Eytan Stibbe. Photo by Chris Gunn for Axiom Space

Since their arrival at the football field-sized space station last Saturday, Connor and the others have been busy.

“Essentially, we’ve been working 12 to 14 hours a day since we, as they say, crossed the hatch last Saturday,” Connor said. “I get up at 5:45 in the morning and we’re working by 7 and don’t end until 8 or so at night.”

The group is doing 25 different experiments and projects that will involve some 150 hours of work, Connor said.

He was tasked with four specific experiments for the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic that involve studies of the heart, brain, spine and aging. He’s also assisting on several projects run by his fellow astronauts.

Stressing education also has been one of his initiatives and he said he’s spoken to “five or six” groups around Dayton so far. He had a session with the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery earlier this week and he spoke to students from Dayton Early College Academy and a Dayton STEM school, too.

ExploreConnor speaks to students from space, via Boonshoft Museum

And Friday night he was giving a special presentation to Colin’s Lodge, a safe gathering spot in Bellbrook for adults with cognitive differences. It’s named after his 29-year-old son Colin.

Connor and Lopez Alegria — or “Mike LA” as the Ax-1 commander is known —taped a private tour of the ISS so Colin and his friends (and later other school groups) can get a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of astronauts living 250 miles above the earth’s surface.

And mind you, that is while they are orbiting the globe at 17,500 miles per hour.

“We jest a little,” Connor said. “We were over the coast of Oregon and someone asked where we were. And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s 40 minutes later. We’re probably headed over Russia right now.’ That’s how fast we’re traveling.”

Connor said this trip “feels like an expedition, because I’ve done a number of those.”

He mentioned rafting down a river in the Himalayas that had never been traversed before and climbing Mount Rainier and Mount Kilimanjaro and taking a trip down a remote river in Africa.

“It feels like those, but having said that, this is a unique experience,” he said.

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Pilot Larry Connor (left) and Commanader Mike Lopez-Alegria during training for Axiom Space's Ax-1 mission. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space and SpaceX.

Pilot Larry Connor (left) and Commanader Mike Lopez-Alegria during training for Axiom Space's Ax-1 mission. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space and SpaceX.

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Pilot Larry Connor (left) and Commanader Mike Lopez-Alegria during training for Axiom Space's Ax-1 mission. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space and SpaceX.

And it wasn’t just about the distance from Earth and the speed he was going. It was the history they are making, the scrutiny they’ve received and the responsibility he feels.

“It’s rewarding and challenging, but we also realize the real responsibility to get it right, being the first all-private crew,” he said.

He and the rest of the crew were in training over eight months for this trip, and the last five or six months were quite intense, he said. They trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, SpaceX headquarters in California, Cape Kennedy in Florida and even in Germany.

Again Friday he reiterated how his crew is anything but “space tourists” as some of the rocket men of means have been described.

As Connor said before, those are people who train maybe 8 to 10 hours and are up in the air 10 minutes.

He also mentioned those who are critical of the price tag for this mission, reported to be $55 million per seat.

“The reality is all of us look at it as an investment so future generations will have it far more accessible,” he said.

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Larry Connor is moving the main office of his national real estate management firm into a new $15 million building at Ohio 741 and Austin Boulevard. He sees the intersection and adjoining corridor being at the area's strategic center.

Credit: HANDOUT

Larry Connor is moving the main office of his national real estate management firm into a new $15 million building at Ohio 741 and Austin Boulevard. He sees the intersection and adjoining corridor being at the area's strategic center.

Credit: HANDOUT

Combined ShapeCaption
Larry Connor is moving the main office of his national real estate management firm into a new $15 million building at Ohio 741 and Austin Boulevard. He sees the intersection and adjoining corridor being at the area's strategic center.

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

Axiom Space sees this voyage as the first step in commercialized low-Earth orbit. The venture is supported by NASA, which is expanding its exploration goals in the future.

With the growing possibilities of space exploration, Connor said he wanted to make sure he spoke to as many Dayton-area school groups as he could: “Hopefully some of them might see this and say, ‘I might consider that (career).’ ”

As he and I spoke Friday thanks to a NASA hookup at The Connor Group headquarters, his wife Chris, Colin and his 6-year-old granddaughter Adele stopped by to see his image on the screen. (Connor could not see us.)

Chris said they went to see him when he appeared on screen at Boonshoft and Colin listened when his dad spoke to the DECA students, as well.

The other day at Boonshoft, Colin gave a touching video interview, telling how proud he was of his dad. He shared insight on the bond they have and he said it felt like his dad was part of a Star Wars adventure.

Connor is part of an international venture on the ISS that includes a NASA crew and a group of cosmonauts from Russia.

ExploreArchdeacon: Connor no "space tourist" as he prepares for mission

The tensions going on between our two nations down here on Earth are not sustainable positions when you’re working together on the space station.

Connor stressed how everyone works together and mentioned the warm greeting he received when their module docked and he entered the ISS.

While he said some people lose their appetites the first few days at the ISS, he said he was hungry as soon as he entered the ISS:

“I was like, ‘When we gonna eat?’ ”

Sleeping in zero gravity has some challenges, but he said he ties his sleeping bag to four posts and can float up and down in it and roll if he wants. He said once he got used to it, he’s had good nights of sleep.

Although he’s 72, he’s especially fit and said his body feels “great.”

He commended the training and equipment they got from Axiom and SpaceX and said he felt “calm” when they blasted off from Cape Kennedy last Friday.

He said they are scheduled to undock on Tuesday and splash back into the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday afternoon.

“This is a once in a lifetime experience,” he said.

“But yeah, I’m ready to splash down and get back to Ohio.”

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