COLUMBUS, Ohio — If 2020 was the year of COVID-19, then 2021 is the modern-day version of “the great space race.”
In September, four space tourists were the first to circle the Earth for three full days as part of SpaceX’s Inspiration4.
But on February 21, 2022, Ohio businessman and real-estate entrepreneur Larry Connor will pilot the first-ever, all-civilian private space mission to the International Space Station.
“I wasn’t interested in being a space tourist,” Connor told 10TV’s Angela An from the headquarters of his real-estate company The Connor Group based in Dayton.
“There’s a lot of work that has to be done at the International Space Station,” he adds. “That’s why we’ve formed a partnership with the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic to do real groundbreaking experiments.”
Connor is in the middle of an intense 5 ½ month training program with Axiom Space that will eventually turn him into an astronaut.
He will be a part of a four-man, multi-national crew on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft when Axiom-1 rockets into space from Cape Canaveral early next year.
“It’s been great that not only me but the other three crew members have all volunteered with Cleveland Clinic and Mayo to be in essence, human guinea pigs and any experiments they want to do prior to the flight, during the flight, or after the flight,” he said.
Connor’s giving nature speaks to his philanthropic background and his company motto of “do the right thing.” He founded the Connor Kids Academy in Dayton where mentors guide kids in 3-days of sports camp.
Last year, Connor made $1.6 million in the stock market during the early coronavirus volatility and gave it back to his employees.
During his time on the ISS, Connor plans to hold STEM classes with students from the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA).
“This is a real opportunity for me to interact with the kids that are in grade school or middle school or high school, and hopefully spark some interest with some of the kids on maybe pursuing a career in the space industry,” Connor says with a smile.
Connor, who built his company 30 years ago into a $3.3 billion asset-rich real estate firm in multiple states, believes being successful comes with an obligation to give back and share the wealth.
“We chose underserved kids in the communities where we operate and focus on helping them be the best that they can be by their own definition, not somebody else’s,” he says. “If you give these kids a level playing field and the tools and opportunity, they could perform at the same or better level than anybody else.”
Connor makes the argument that he’s just an average guy from Ohio who’s had the good fortune and opportunity to do fairly interesting and extraordinary things, but it’s not anything others can’t do.
And there isn’t much Larry Connor can’t do. In April 2021, he completed three dives in five days to the deepest ocean depths in the Mariana Trench.
Connor is an experienced pilot trained to fly 15 different types of aircraft. He races cars.
He has climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington and Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world in Tanzania, Africa.
But Connor says he doesn’t see himself as an adventure seeker and he never sought out to be an astronaut as a kid.
“I would describe as willing to get outside of my comfort zone,” he says. “Even if I’m not sure if I can achieve something, to at least try.”
For someone who loves to learn new things, challenge himself, and try new adventures, Connor says he spent 7 years researching every aspect of the space mission when Axiom Space first announced this opportunity.
“Hopefully we are pioneers in that regard to help move space exploration forward,” he says. “Anytime you are starting something, it’s going to be really, really expensive,” Connor says referencing some of the criticism behind the cost of each seat on this historic flight.
“Ask Elon Musk about starting Tesla or starting SpaceX. I think you can make an argument about those cases that the investment has really paid dividends, not only for Americans but people around the globe.”
If Larry Connor’s mission is to make a difference in this world—and beyond – then mission complete.