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Dayton Philanthropist Pays Millions To Pilot SpaceX Rocket

Larry Connor has flown 16 different types of aircraft, including the F-5 fighter jet.
Larry Connor has flown 16 different types of aircraft, including the F-5 fighter jet.

When Axiom Space launches the SpaceX Dragon in January 2022, a Dayton, Ohio, man will be on it. In fact, philanthropist and businessman Larry Connor will be piloting it.

The Founder and CEO of The Connor Group, who is a pilot and owns a fighter jet, first learned about the opportunity to go to the International Space Station three years ago. Even though the thrill aspect is there, Connor is looking forward to participating in medical research and ultimately making private space travel more accessible.

The Associated Press reports Connor and two others - Eytan Stibbe of Israel and Mark Pathy of Canada - each paid $55 million to take part in the trip. The Connor Group wouldn't say what Connor paid, but it wasn't that. It did agree it was millions.

"It's going to be really expensive in the early stages and this is a part of that initial stage to propel that forward, where in 20 to 30 years, it's a lot more accessible to people," he says.

Affordability is one goal. He has two other ones. One is medical research. He told Axiom, "Look, I don't want to be a spectator. I'm here to do some serious research, so I'll be a test subject." Some research is for the Mayo Clinic and possibly the Cleveland Clinic.

And then there's the thrill aspect. "To pilot this aircraft is a big challenge and a big opportunity," he says.

Connor will undergo four months of intense training in Texas, California and Florida.

Some wonder if he's spending his money wisely given financial burdens others are facing. "That's a fair question," says Connor. "And I somewhat understand the criticism. So, if you think about it, wealth inequality, wealth gaps, whatever you want to call it, our belief has always been to do the right thing and share the wealth."

Connor started a non-profit benefiting kids in the Dayton community and beyond. He says in the next 10 years, he will invest $400 million in that philanthropic effort and others.

The space mission will last 10 days.

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With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.