Private Canadian astronaut prepares for ‘pain’ experiments in space

MONTREAL – Mark Pathy has carried more than his share of vehicles. He competed in the Laconia Motorcycle Rally in New Hampshire years ago, and also traveled with his brother to Chicago to learn how to ride Kawasaki Ninjas.

MONTREAL – Mark Pathy has carried more than his share of vehicles.

He competed in the Laconia Motorcycle Rally in New Hampshire years ago, and also traveled with his brother to Chicago to learn how to ride Kawasaki Ninjas.

In 1997, he drove an RV through the former Yugoslavia, camping in communities with few supplies or tourist traps following a catastrophic three-year war there.

Today, the 52-year-old Montreal businessman is preparing to become a guinea pig for pain experiments as part of the first private crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Scheduled for February, the trip will see Pathy and three others embark on a 10-day journey aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft – manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX – on the Texas-based Axiom Space’s maiden voyage. And he pays over $ 50 million for this privilege.

“It’s been a dream since I was little and watched Captain Kirk bounce back into the Enterprise universe,” said Pathy, who heads investment firm Mavrik Corp.

Fellow Montreal native William Shatner – who played Kirk in “Star Trek” – was one of four passengers to take off aboard a ship built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin for a 10-minute getaway in space. last month. The actor’s stay has played into a growing demand for suborbital tourism which companies such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic also operate. But these top-to-bottom excursions are too brief for Pathy’s liking.

Pathy, a former co-CEO of Montreal shipping company Fednav Рco-founded by his grandfather Рsays his next trip marks a big step forward for commercial spaceflight, even though another Quebecer, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Lalibert̩, beat him on the launch pad when he became the first Canadian citizen to reach orbit in 2009.

Called Ax-1, the February mission will see Pathy participate in a dozen research projects on board; many involve recording pain levels associated with bodily changes during weightlessness.

“At first I thought I was going to have to put my hand on the table and smash it with a hammer and see what it felt like. Fortunately, it’s not that extreme, ”he said in an interview with The Canadian Press at Mavrik’s office in downtown Montreal.

The experiments will measure everything from pain associated with the breakdown of bone tissue to astronaut immune cells in relation to “the role of systemic inflammation in acute and chronic pain.”

Pathy will undergo a battery of basic pre-launch and post-water medical tests, including magnetic resonance imaging and other testing, as well as questionnaires and blood and urine samples at the space station.

He will also wear a “smart” stretch swimsuit and headband – dubbed the Astroskin biomonitoring system by its manufacturer, Montreal-based Carré Technologies – which records real-time health data and transmits it to Earth. Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques first tested the Astroskin on the space station in 2019.

“I didn’t have time to get a PhD before launch, so for the most part I have to play the role of a lab rat,” said Pathy, sitting in her corner office across from a two-foot model of the spaceship and Falcon. 9 rocket.

His teammates will be Larry Connor, real estate and tech entrepreneur from Ohio, and Israeli businessman Eytan Stibbe, under the command of former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría.

The quartet is not tied to any particular diet or physical regimen. But they’re halfway through a training program that involves preparing for emergencies – like a fire or depressurization – and learning to live aboard the spacecraft and space station, where about eight of their 10 days in space will have passed.

Private astronauts sailed mock-ups of the ISS modules and the space capsule at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and Hawthorne, California.

Earlier this year, the group traveled to Pennsylvania to simulate a weightless environment via 40-second airplane free-falls and to use a centrifuge setup that mimics the acceleration of a rocket launch.

“You feel like your cheeks are wrapped around your ears. You feel like you have a very heavy person sitting on your chest,” Pathy said.

Commercial cosmonauts also trekked the Talkeetna Mountains in Alaska for a week to test their ability to endure stressful environments in groups earlier this year.

“It rained everyday on this trip. So we had to deal with being wet all the time and trying to stay still, in the wind and rain, set up our shelter, prepare meals and take care for each other and for ourselves, ”recalls Pathy.

López-Alegría, who will be on his fifth space trip, said Pathy was a “very constant” presence.

“As a young crew member in his early fifties, he was kind of the physical rock. He had to slow down and make sure the rest of us kept pace,” said the former pilot. ‘trial.

To keep him optimistic, Pathy asks for a playlist or two from Groupe Stingray Inc., the Montreal-based music and media company he chairs. “Like Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ or Ziggy Stardust,” he joked.

“I hope I don’t end up like Major Tom.

Pathy rated the risks associated with the assignment as “acceptable”.

“I have a young family; I am adventurous but I have no death wish,” said the father of three. “My wife at first thought I was half-joking … When I said I thought I could go to space, she said, ‘Not without me, you’re not going.’ “

The price to pay was not lost on him either.

“It’s a lot of money. I feel very lucky to be able to afford this kind of trip. Obviously not many people can. But at the same time, I don’t have to choose, luckily, between doing something. like that or be philanthropically active. “

Charities supported by Pathy include the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation and Dans la Rue, an organization that helps at-risk and homeless youth.

He hopes the so-called big picture effect, which would give people who have seen Earth from space a new awareness of its fragility, also hit him.

“By all accounts, it’s a deep, profound and in some cases life-changing experience that only gives a new perspective on life and the planet and our role on it. And I hope that to me. will help guide me through the rest of my life and what I can do in a philanthropic way, ”he said.

Over the past decade, NASA has increasingly relied on the private sector to deliver supplies, experiments, and now astronauts to the Moon and the International Space Station. Completely private missions offer a chance to relieve pressure from government agencies on a tight budget and shine a light on Canadian technology – like the Astroskin – said Pathy.

“The research I’m taking with me, which is mostly Canadian, probably should have waited a very long time to have the chance to be tested in space,” he said, noting that the projects are collaborative. with half a dozen Canadian universities.

“I think it’s positive that people like me can speed up these projects and then not be put on the shoulders of Canadian taxpayers.

“My fascination with space is that it has no limits,” Pathy said. “You can always go further, you can always learn more. And that’s pretty amazing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 17, 2021.

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Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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