Archdeacon: From ocean depths to space, adventures continue for Larry Connor

Larry Connor, a long-time Daytonian and business owner.
Larry Connor, a long-time Daytonian and business owner.

MIAMI TOWNSHIP – After a year of mostly stay-at-home precautions due to the pandemic, many people – thanks to vaccines and sensible protocols – are slowly venturing out again to restaurants, family gatherings and even sporting events.

Larry Connor – as is often his wont – is taking things quite a bit farther.

Wednesday morning, as the founder and CEO of The Connor Group, the well-known philanthropist and long-time sports adventurist was on a Zoom call with the three other astronauts he will pilot on a previously announced space flight to the International Space Station in February – the first-ever all private mission to the ISS – it also was being revealed that next week he will serve as the co-pilot of an expedition to explore the oceans deepest depths.

Connor will partner with EYOS Expeditions and Caladan Oceanic for a trip to the Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific Ocean some 200 miles from Guam.

There they will explore both the rarely seen Challenger Deep, which at 35,856 feet below sea level is the deepest location in the world, and then the Sirena Deep, which is some 70 miles to the east and its 35,150 foot depth has been explored by only one other two-man expedition in history.

Connor and Patrick Lahey – the owner and CEO of Triton Submarines who will pilot these missions – will make the descents to the harsh environments of the ocean floor in a state of the art submersible called the DSV Limiting Factor.

It resembles a titanium ball, Connor said. It’s 4 ½ feet wide and 4 ½ feet high and has three small viewing areas, but also a bank of cameras and lights around the entire submarine.

Aboard the mother ship, Deep Pressure, that takes them to the dive sites will be Captain Stuart Buckle, expedition leader Rob McCallum and Dr. Alan Jamieson, the expedition’s chief scientist and part of the two-man crew that made the first dive to the bottom of the Sirena Deep.

As we sat and talked Wednesday in the office of his real estate investment firm near the intersection of SR-741 and Austin Boulevard, Connor said their group might also make a third dive at the Nero Deep, which extends nearly 32,000 feet below sea level.

Once he completes both the ocean dives and the space flight, Connor will become only the third person in history to travel to both inner and outer space.

He said next week’s adventure came about after his 10-day space trip was announced in January.

“After that, EYOS reached out to me and explained they were a research organization and had the only certified sub to go to the depths of any ocean,” he said. “They’re a non -profit organization and they wondered if I’d have any interest going with them.”

Larry Connor, the CEO and founder of the The Connor Group, is part of an expedition to explore the Mariana Trench in submersible called the DSV Limiting Factor. Reeve Jolliffe/CONTRIBUTED
Larry Connor, the CEO and founder of the The Connor Group, is part of an expedition to explore the Mariana Trench in submersible called the DSV Limiting Factor. Reeve Jolliffe/CONTRIBUTED

If he would help cover some of the cost, he was told he could have an active part in the venture as a copilot and a specialist in a mission that hopes to gather specific samples, survey uncharted areas, collect high quality footage and likely make some new discoveries.

After the ISS mission was announced, it was leaked that seats cost individuals in the range of $50 million.

Connor said he’s under a non-disclosure agreement, but admitted that the cost of this trip is only a fraction of that.

And as with the space shot, he said the cost is worth it when you consider the research coming from each and how it will pave the way for cheaper, future travel by private citizens and may also inspire others, especially young people.

While a couple of national critics of the space shot surmised the venture catered to rich businessmen feeding their egos, it was evident they knew nothing about the hundreds of millions of dollars of philanthropic work the fit, 71-year-old has done in this community – and others around the nation – or what his plans are for the future.

After he dies, he said 80 percent of his personal assets will go to others, including 50 percent to his Connor Group Kids & Community Partners programs that are geared to schools, places like Dayton Children’s Hospital and to ground breaking medical research efforts.

The fact that Connor’s two historic explorations are scheduled to happen within 9 ½ months of each other is something that once seemed quite unlikely.

“In the past I had two problems,” he said. “I didn’t have any money and I didn’t have any time. But even back then, I always had a passion for exploration.”

He pointed to one of the many large framed photos of past exploits now displayed on his office wall. It showed him in a raft nearly flipped on end as it plummeted down the churning waters of the Drangme Chhu River in the Himalayan Mountains.

“That’s in Bhutan,” he said. “That river had never been run before. We made the first descent.”

He’s rafted other challenging rivers in Africa and South America, scaled Mt. Rainier and Mt, Kilimanjaro and driven race cars and off-road vehicles to some 70 victories.

While many of his sports venture have been personal, others have impacted the community, none more so than when he became the point person in raising funds – and donating his own – in the recently completed, $72 million renovation of UD Arena.

Connor has always pushed the envelope. He started out as a low on funds, big on dreams partner opening Newcom’s Tavern in the Oregon District in the 1970s and now runs The Connor Group, which has over $3.3 billion in assets.

“My belief is that you should always aim high,” he said. “Never put a ceiling on what you think you can do. Too many people set limitations. To me the only limitations are the ones you put on yourself.”

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.
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

‘Truly the last frontier on earth’

When he got the call from EYOS, he admits he knew little about the Mariana Trench. But after some extensive research, he became fascinated.

The crescent-shaped Trench is huge: 2,550 miles in length and 43 miles wide. Below 600 feet or so, everything is dark and near the bottom of the Challenger Deep the pressure is tremendous – about 16,500 pounds per square inch compared to 14.7 at sea level.

The first excursion to the Challenger depths was in 1960 and the next trip wasn’t made until 52 years later. The Sirena Deep has been seen even less.

“I asked what we would be looking for and they said in almost every dive at those depths, they’ve found something they never anticipated finding,” he said. “We’ll be looking for sea life, vegetation and formations.

“In one trench, they found a mountain that went 3,000 feet up that no one knew existed. This is truly the last frontier on earth.”

Connor – who has spent time in the simulator at the Triton headquarters in Vero Beach, Fla. – believes Lahey is comfortable with him handling some copiloting chores because he has experience piloting 16 different types of aircraft.

Connor leaves on Monday and arrives in Guam on Tuesday evening. Wednesday they’ll board the Deep Pressure and travel to the Mariana Trench.

They’ll dive the Challenger Deep on Thursday – it takes four hours to get to the ocean floor, they’ll spend four or five hours there and then make the return – and after a day’s rest and travel to the Sirena Deep, they’re scheduled for a 12-15 hour excursion there.

‘It’s only impossible if you believe it’s impossible’

Starting in June, Connor and the three other crewmen on his Axiom Space flight will begin one week a month training periods. From October through January he said he be training full time at Elon Musk’s SpaceX facility in California, the Johnson Space Center in Houston and Cape Canaveral in Florida.

There also will be a trip to Russia to watch a space launch and training sessions in Germany and Japan.

The launch has tentatively been set for Feb. 1.

Along with the research experiments in space, Connor will communicating with students at the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA).

“If I get an opportunity to share these stories with kids, one of them might be inspired,” he said. “They might say, ‘You know, that guy was a crappy student in school. He barely got out of high school, barely got into college and then started with nothing.

“’But somehow he found his way and has been able to do some pretty interesting and unusual things. So if he can do that, I can do something, too.’

“We need more people to think about doing the impossible. My belief is that it’s only impossible if you believe it’s impossible.”

So, with that in mind, are there even more possibilities on the horizon for him after these two ventures?

He started to laugh:

“The answer is ‘Yes,’ but I can’t tell you what it is right now. I don’t know if I’ll be asked to be a part of it. Other people will be leading it, so I can’t say anything now except that it will be really big and really unique.”

With Larry Connor you would expect no less.

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