WATCH: Dayton business leader in orbit for space station mission

Pilot Larry Connor (left) and commander Mike Lopez-Alegria during training for Axiom Space's Ax-1 mission. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space and SpaceX.

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Pilot Larry Connor (left) and commander Mike Lopez-Alegria during training for Axiom Space's Ax-1 mission. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space and SpaceX.

Larry Connor, a Dayton business leader and philanthropist, blasted off into space today, part of the first all-civilian and commercially funded crew to visit the International Space Station.

Connor — the founder and managing partner of the Miami Township-based The Connor Group real estate investment firm — is the pilot on the mission.

The rest of the four-man crew is former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who is the commander; Mark Pathy, a businessman from Canada; and Eytan Stibbe, an Israeli entrepreneur and former fighter jet pilot. The three businessmen reportedly paid $55 million each for the trip.

The launch happened at 11:17 a.m. Watch the launch replay here:

Docking with the space station is scheduled for Saturday at approximately 7:30 a.m. EDT.

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It’s SpaceX’s first private charter flight to the orbiting lab after two years of carrying astronauts there for NASA.

They are scheduled for a 10-day trip to the space station, then scheduled to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean.

The launch had been delayed from February and again in March.

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Connor said he signed a non-disclosure agreement that prevents him from revealing the price tag of his mission, but he has defended the decision.

“If we, as a nation or a world, are really going to move space forward, you’re going to have to get the private sector involved,” Connor told journalist Will Ujek last month. “The fact is, whether anyone likes it or not, that initial investment is going to be really high.”

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Larry Connor, the founder and CEO of The Connor Group, is the pilot of the Axiom Mission 1 crew, the the first-ever all civilian flight to the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of SpaceX

Larry Connor, the founder and CEO of The Connor Group, is the pilot of the Axiom Mission 1 crew, the the first-ever all civilian flight to the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of SpaceX

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Larry Connor, the founder and CEO of The Connor Group, is the pilot of the Axiom Mission 1 crew, the the first-ever all civilian flight to the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of SpaceX

Connor told our Tom Archdeacon last month: “When you think of the Wright Brothers, Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, those guys were daring pioneers. I don’t think I begin to rise to that level.

“It’s still space exploration, but with the developments and the training, its dramatically different today. It’s far safer.

“The people I mentioned, their place in history is well earned and I’m just happy to represent Ohio and the Dayton area and maybe be a small part of it.”

Russia has been hosting tourists at the space station — and before that the Mir station — for decades. Just last fall, a Russian movie crew flew up, followed by a Japanese fashion tycoon and his assistant.

NASA is finally getting into the act, after years of opposing space station visitors.

“It was a hell of a ride and we’re looking forward to the next 10 days,” said former NASA astronaut and chaperone Michael Lopez-Alegria on reaching orbit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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The crew of the Axiom Mission 1, first-ever all civilian flight to the International Space Station. From left, pilot Larry Connor, mission specialist Mark Pathy, commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and mission specailst Eytan Stibbe. Photo by Chris Gunn for Axiom Space

The crew of the Axiom Mission 1, first-ever all civilian flight to the International Space Station. From left, pilot Larry Connor, mission specialist Mark Pathy, commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and mission specailst Eytan Stibbe. Photo by Chris Gunn for Axiom Space

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The crew of the Axiom Mission 1, first-ever all civilian flight to the International Space Station. From left, pilot Larry Connor, mission specialist Mark Pathy, commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and mission specailst Eytan Stibbe. Photo by Chris Gunn for Axiom Space