From The Bottom of The Ocean to Outer Space
Larry Connor has reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, won national car racing championships, and obtained licenses to pilot 15 different aircraft. Now, he has explored the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in a Triton submarine and is preparing to fly into space with Axiom Group.
Connor wants to be the first explorer to reach both the ocean’s depths and outer space within a year.
“Our challenge is going to be trying to map some of the bottom, and explore where nobody’s ever been. We anticipate that being a long dive–probably 13 to 15 hours in total,” he said in an interview prior to the dive.
The explorer described the Triton submarine as “literally a titanium ball that you sit in.” He ‘tested the waters’ at Triton Submarines’ headquarters in Florida, where he received basic training using a simulator.
Weeks later, he completed a set of deep dives aboard Triton 36000/2, the only submarine model certified for “unlimited ocean depth.” Besides exploring the 36,000 feet deep Challenger Deep abyss, Connor also reached the depths of the Sirena Deep. Challenger and Sirena are the deepest and the second deepest point in the ocean, respectively.
Connor did not explore the bottom of the ocean alone. Triton President Patrick Lahey accompanied him. After completing the mission, a satisfied Connor told reporters, “The trip was phenomenal. It’s a different world down there. Once you get below 600 feet, it’s pitch black. So for 4 hours and 20 minutes of the descent you’re in darkness.” Before the Triton 36000/2, no submarine had been able to get to the bottom of the Challenger Deep more than once.
The Triton’s mission was a complete success. The explorers collected biosamples and unique footage that can help scientists understand life in Hadal zones (deep ocean environments between 20,000 and 36,000 feet deep). One of the team’s most important accomplishments was the observation of the Mariana snailfish, the only marine species that can survive at such depths. Marine biologists knew of the species’ existence, but it had never been observed alive in its habitat.
You can watch a video of the Triton 36000/2’s mission below.
The Triton 36000/2 weighs 13 tons. It can reach the maximum ocean depth at 11,000 meters/36,000 feet, accommodates two passengers, and has an air supply that can last about 16 hours. It took three hours for the vertical-descent submarine to reach the Challenger Deep.
Following the mission's success, Connor now prepares to complete the second half of his challenge: a 10-day mission to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
The Connor Group CEO says he “never had the time and never had the money,” but was always passionate “about exploration and about trying to do groundbreaking research.” Though he is not a scientist, Connor believes “the private sector can do unbelievable things to help all people.”
It was not Larry Connor's idea to combine the two exploration trips into a record-breaking achievement. When EYOS Expeditions, which commanded the Mariana Trench exploration mission, heard that Connor was going into space, they decided to ask him if he would like to help cover the costs of the Triton mission and join in as a submarine co-pilot.
“[EYOS has] been doing groundbreaking research in the Mariana Trench over the last couple of years [and] they want to continue that, but it’s very expensive,” Connor commented. “Frankly, I didn’t know anything about deep sea exploration. . . but the more I learned, the more I became convinced that these individuals were absolutely professional, and that it could be done and could be done safely, and that the research would in fact be valuable.”
While it was EYOS’ idea to invite Connor to join the deep dive mission, in the case of space travel, he has cherished the idea for many years. Next January, he will join NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, Israeli pilot Eytan Stibbe, and Mark Pathy, a Canadian businessman, on the first civil mission to the ISS.
“It will be the first private mission to the International Space Station and, in my opinion, we’re going to do it right,” the entrepreneur commented. “We’re going to do it to professional astronaut standards, we’re going to do the training, because I think we have an opportunity but a real obligation to get it right.”
When the space mission is completed, Connor will become the third person to travel to both the ISS and Challenger Deep. The first one was Kathy Sullivan, a former NASA astronaut who explored the bottom of the ocean last summer, and the second was another astronaut, Richard Garriot, who visited the Challenger Deep in early 2021.
“In my experience,” Connor told reporters, “if you really want to propel things forward at a rapid rate, you’ve got to get the private sector involved, whether it’s going to the bottom of the ocean or going to outer space. . . Aim high. Never set limits. Never put a ceiling on what you can do. The impossible is only impossible if you think it’s impossible.”