Montreal investor-turned-astronaut getting ready for lift-off


“What we’re doing is far from tourism,” Mark Pathy says of the 10-day mission to the International Space Station scheduled for February.

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Montreal investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy is hoping the US$50 million he paid for a seat on the first private space mission will yield plenty of meaningful data — along with a personal epiphany.

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Pathy, 52, is busy preparing for a 10-day mission to the International Space Station that’s now scheduled for February. When he takes off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, he will become the second Quebecer who isn’t an astronaut — after Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté — to travel to space.

Over eight days inside the orbiting laboratory, Pathy will take part in 12 scientific research projects for organizations such as the Montreal Children’s Hospital, whose foundation he serves as director, as well as earth observation activities and technology demonstrations. Known as Ax-1, the mission will provide valuable information to understand the consequences of microgravity and help children and adolescents on Earth, according to Dr. Pablo Ingelmo, who runs the hospital’s centre for complex pain.

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“This is clearly a personal mission and a longstanding personal dream, but once I decided to pursue it and I was given the opportunity to bring up research of my choosing, I thought that was a key element of this experience and it got me excited,” Pathy said in a telephone interview. “A lot of things I undertake in life I aim to create some social benefit with.”

Through the Canadian Space Agency, Pathy sought out projects that were priorities for the Children’s and multiple universities, including McGill. Most of the experiments relate to health care, focusing on issues such as chronic pain or sleep disturbances, while others have ties to technology, education or the environment.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to successfully complete all these experiments,” said Pathy, who is personally funding the research he’s taking with him. “Hopefully I’ll bring back high-quality data. I’m not a scientist. I have limitations but I’m an excellent lab rat. That seems to be a useful quality.”

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A member of the wealthy family that controls shipping company Fednav Ltd., Pathy runs Mavrik Corp., an investment firm he founded. He also serves as chairman of the Stingray media group and sits on the board of his family’s foundation and the homeless youth support organization Dans la Rue.

On Ax-1, Pathy will be part of a four-person crew — led by former National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronaut Michael López-Alegría — that includes U.S. real estate entrepreneur Larry Connor and Israeli venture capitalist Eytan Stibbe.

“All three of my crew mates have quite a lot of experience flying fighter jets,” Pathy said. “I’m the only one who has no engineering experience. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can in a short time and live up to everyone’s expectations. All four of us are very different people, but our objectives are aligned and we share the same passion.”

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NASA signed an agreement for the mission with Houston-based Axiom Space in May. Axiom will buy services such as crew supplies, cargo delivery and storage from NASA.

Seventeen weeks of training in Houston and Los Angeles will help the crew acquaint itself with systems, procedures and emergency preparedness. The astronauts will then begin a quarantine two weeks before lift-off to prevent any virus from reaching the space station. Once inside, the astronauts will be expected to live and work autonomously.

Pathy draws a clear distinction between Ax-1 and space flights such as the ones carried out by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin .

“What we’re doing is far from tourism,” he said. “We’re undertaking a full-fledged astronaut mission, including all the research, work and training that go along with that. The Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin flights are very, very different from what this mission is all about.”

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As for the price tag, Pathy denied published reports that he had paid US$55 million to fly aboard Ax-1.

“Various numbers have been published, but none of them have come from me,” he said. “I’m telling you what I’m paying, which is 50.”

Pathy, who is married with three children aged seven, five and four, says he gave a lot of thought to safety before making the biggest investment decision of his life.

“That was the first thing I focused on,” he said. “I looked at who the people at Axiom were, what their capabilities were for getting people safely to and from space, and I was impressed. I’m not a daredevil. I’m adventurous but I don’t have death wish. I have a young family and I’m looking forward to seeing them grow up. I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought there was a meaningful risk of this not working out.”

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Despite the mission’s scientific component, Pathy also plans to carve out ample time for a more personal goal.

“From what I understand, there is a moment that comes during the stay in the space station where you have some kind of epiphany and you see the world in a different light,” he said. “If I do all the research but never have a moment to reflect on the meaning of life or stare out at this incredible view of the Earth from the cupola, I will have missed something. It’s important to make sure that I have that time to spend as well.”

Note: This story has been updated to clarify Mark Pathy’s connection with the Montreal Children’s Hospital. 

ftomesco@postmedia.com

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