Meet the Canadian who blasts off on the first civilian mission to the International Space Station


Mark Pathy isn’t one to be in the spotlight but, being part of the historic first civilian mission to the space station, he didn’t have much of a choice.

“If I could have done it in complete anonymity, I certainly would have done it,” he said. “But, obviously, that’s not possible.”

Pathy, a 52-year-old entrepreneur and philanthropist from Montreal, spoke from the quarantine room of his well-lit hotel outside Orlando, Florida, while waiting for its launch. It had already been moved twice since its original date of March 30.

But the time has finally come. If all goes well, Pathy will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket destined for the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday at 11:17 a.m. ET.

“I’ve had this fantasy since I was a kid and watched star trek“, he said on Zoom. “I had the fantasy of traveling through space and bouncing around the universe, meeting new species and discovering new worlds … all that kind of stuff.

Pathy isn’t exactly setting out to meet wrinkled-brow aliens, but he isn’t on a pleasure cruise to the ISS either. Instead, he’s part of a four-person crew that includes a former NASA astronaut. Michael Lopez – Alegriaentrepreneur Larry Connor and investor Eytan Stibbe – the first civilian mission to the space station, and they will be hard at work.

The four are part of Axiom spaceof the AX-1 mission. Axiom is a privately funded space company that aims to send commercial missions to the ISS – Ax-1 is their first – and eventually build the world’s first commercial space station.

Pathy’s uniform can be seen here. The entrepreneur will only be the second Canadian citizen to travel in space. In 2009, Cirque de Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté became the first Canadian space tourist. (SpaceX)

It may seem like a fantastic and pointless goal to set up a space station, but the company’s goal, he said, is to conduct research and experiments that can be used not only in space. but also here on Earth.

And that was part of the call for Pathy to buy a $50 million seat.

“When I found out that we could select research to discuss with us and complete there, that was just the icing on the cake – that I could really make it that much more impactful.”

But how do you tell your wife and two children that you’re about to embark on a rocket, undergo a controlled explosion, and head to a place where no humans are supposed to live or work?

Pathy trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. (Robert Markowitz/NASA-Johnson Space Center)

“I came home and said to my wife, ‘I think I’m going to space.’ And his first response was, ‘Not without me, you’re not here,'” he said. “But she’s excited for me and my kids were really excited… My parents were skeptical at first, but they’ve become big supporters. And they’re really excited about the whole thing.”

Pathy knows there are risks.

“I have a young family, so I don’t kind of think, ‘Wow, well, you know, I’ve had a great life, but never mind. ”

“I always intend to live a long and fruitful life,” he said. “I’m worried about my safety and I’m worried about my ability to do all these new things and take on all these commitments, with research and everything… but, at this point, I’m not really worried anymore.”

science fiction demonstration

Pathy will work hard to conduct 12 research projects, including a technology demonstration of two-way holoportation in space, which the researchers hope will be useful here on Earth.

And if it looks like something star trekit’s because it kind of is.

star trek – along with many other sci-fi shows and movies – often use holograms, or 3D renditions of people, as a means of communication. Pathy’s experience, meanwhile, won’t be like what we see on the big screen. Instead, he and someone else on the ground will wear virtual reality headsets that act more like augmented reality. The technology is a group effort between Leap Biosystems, Aexa Aerospace and Microsoft.

Former Canadian Space Agency astronaut Dave Williams worked with Pathy on this technology and is excited to see where its emergence will take us.

“Images from mission control on Earth will be sent into space, and Mark will see them as if they were in space with him aboard the International Space Station,” he said. “Most importantly, images from the space station will be sent to mission control, so it will appear that Mark is, in fact, in mission control with the ground crew.

“It’s amazing technology that you can start imagining how we can use it in the future.”

WATCH | Aexa Aerospace demonstrates holoportation:

And these future uses could help serve Canadians in important ways.

“If you’re talking about medical care in the Canadian Arctic, you could say it’s an extreme environment with temperature ranges, there’s significant isolation, etc.,” Williams said. “And we want to be able to develop robust technologies that will work in these remote isolated communities – or in remote regions of space.

pain in the name of science

Another important experiment is about chronic pain, something that millions of people experience every day. But its nature and the role the brain plays in it are not fully understood.

“When people say the pain is all in your brain, it’s absolutely true. The mind is the most complex organ we have, which is completely unexplored, in many ways,” said the Dr. Pablo Ingelmo, anesthetist and director of Edwards. Interdisciplinary Family Center for Complex Pain at The Montreal Children’s Hospital, which is participating in this experiment with Pathy.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket stands ready on launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Axiom launch will be the first private crew to visit the International Space Station. (SpaceX)

“As doctors, we confused two concepts. One is nociception: what do I feel in a stimulus that could cause pain, how do I send information to my brain,” he explains. “But pain is a completely different issue. Pain is my reaction, my behavior, my suffering, my expression of this nociceptive stimulus.”

An example is those with fibromyalgia. People with this poorly understood disease experience pain very differently than people without the disease. Their body treats even mild pain as something stronger, a process called allodynia.

Another is back pain.

It is common for astronauts to experience back pain both in space and when they return to Earth. Ingelmo and his team want to better understand the role the brain plays in this and apply that knowledge to patients here in the field.

In order to get a baseline of how Pathy feels pain, he was pushed and pushed.

“They made me prick me with needles in different parts of my body and asked me to report my level of pain. And then heat, then cold, mainly on my arm but also in the lower part of my body. my back,” he said.

“It’s not always practical or comfortable, but I think, look, I’m really happy to have the chance to do something positive for society.”

Pathy’s family will be watching its launch closely. There will even be a party. But that’s not what he’s been looking forward to.

“Personally, I’m more looking forward to the homecoming party.”