People & Culture

Canadian businessperson Mark Pathy blasts into space on private mission

March 30 is the launch date! The Montreal-born investor and philanthropist will complete a 10-day mission that combines bucket-list trip with research and environmental agenda 

  • Mar 18, 2022
  • 1,585 words
  • 7 minutes
Astronaut inputs information into onboard computer Expand Image

You almost needed a scorecard last year to keep track of all the rich people blasting off into space.

Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos blasted off in rocket ships the billionaires built themselves. Branson went first and soared 86 kilometres, coming within 14 kilometres of the Kármán line — the internationally recognized border for space. Bezos went next and went six kilometres past Kármán. Takeaway: Both men have plenty of money. One man has a better sense of direction.

William Shatner went to space last year. When he was back on Earth — after 10 minutes in a Bezos Blue Origin space capsule — television’s Captain Kirk wiped away a tear or two and said, “I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now.” Takeaway: Bezos is a brilliant marketer.

Along with Mr. Amazon, Mr. Virgin Galactic and Captain Kirk, in 2021 private rocket ships took an 84-year-old retired aviation pilot to space (Wally Funk), a Russian actor (Yulia Peresild) and an American billionaire (Jared Isaacman) who bought not one, not two, but four passenger tickets on a SpaceX flight, at a cost of what he said was “less than $200 million.” Takeaway: We’re going to need a low-Earth-orbit E-ZPass pretty soon.

And 2022 will begin with a Canadian joining the space-bound caravans. Montreal businessperson Mark Pathy will become Canada’s second citizenastronaut, following in the steps of Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté, who paid $35 million to fly to the International Space Station in 2009. (He’ll be the third if you count William Shatner as a citizen-astronaut for his 10-minute sojourn in the skies.)

Pathy, born and raised in Montreal, is CEO and chair of Mavrik. (Photo: Julie Oliver/Can Geo)
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On March 31, Pathy is scheduled to blast off in an Elon Musk SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft to the space station. He will be in space for 10 days as part of the first all-private crew to visit the space station. (It was once rumoured that Tom Cruise would be part of this historic mission. The actor dropped out but is still in negotiations for a future seat.) Takeaway: Space travel is no longer just a celebrity’s game.

Michael López-Alegría, the retired NASA astronaut and commander of the upcoming SpaceX flight to the International Space Station, admits he “didn’t know anything about (Pathy)” when he first heard the Montreal businessperson was interested in
becoming part of the crew. It’s a sign, he says, that space travel has begun to democratize.

“Mark has every right to be part of this crew,” says López-Alegría. “He’s physically active, has a lot of experience in extreme environments. People like Mark, this is how you democratize the experience, how you make [space travel] more and more commonplace.” That said, you still need a few million dollars. The rumoured price of admission is $50 million US, though Pathy
denies the price tag was that high.

So, who is Mark Pathy? He is 52 years old, born and raised in Montreal, married, the father of three young children. He is CEO and chair of Mavrik, an investment firm he founded in 2016 after stepping down as co-CEO of Fednav Ltd, a shipping company founded by his great-uncle in the 1940s. He is also chair of the board of Stingray, a publicly traded media company in which Mavrik has an interest.

The Pathys (the family is of Hungarian descent) went into the shipping business by buying decommissioned ships after the Second World War. The business prospered from the start. The brothers soon became business partners with people such as former prime minister Paul Martin and moved to the Montreal enclave of Westmount.

Mark Pathy was educated at Selwyn House, a private boys school in Westmount where he went through a brief rebellion period (“five earrings and a mohawk”). He then received an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto and an MBA from INSTAD, before taking a job as an account rep at an advertising firm. But by his late 20s, Pathy had cut the hair, tossed the earrings, moved back to Montreal and begun working for the family business.

The mission will travel to the ISS in the Crew Dragon spacecraft by SpaceX. (Photo: Courtesy of SpaceX)
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When not working, Pathy enjoys scuba diving, tennis and crazy road trips. He once travelled across the Balkans and has visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, to meet Nobel Peace Prize recipient Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist and Pentecostal pastor who receives money from the Pathy Family Foundation. (Dr. Mukwege was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, along with Nadia Murad, “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”) The foundation, launched in 2007, tends to focus its funding on charities aimed at generating longterm social change.

It’s an interesting background, but Pathy acknowledges his name recognition will never match that of Guy Laliberté, who in addition to co-founding Cirque du Soleil is a flamboyant poker player, star-studded Grand Prix party hoster and the first
Canadian space tourist. “I’m not a celebrity,” says Pathy, “and I like it that way. There’s going to be a time when going into space is common. I see this mission as the next step in that evolution.”

Mavrik’s offices are on the top floor of a building in old Montreal. It boasts a beautiful view of the Montreal skyline heading down to the harbourfront. 

So, how do you get a seat on a spaceship?

“You call them up,” he answers.

That’s pretty much how it’s done — in case you have a few million and were wondering.

“We don’t market these flights,” says López-Alegría. “There’s not a brochure. People contact us. We talk.”

As well as completing four missions to the International Space Station, López-Alegría is also vice president of business development with Axiom Space, the Houston-based company organizing Pathy’s trip. Axiom — founded by a former NASA
executive and a former NASA engineering services contractor — has a contract to offer private-crew trips to the current space station and has been tasked with building the next one. 

It was Axiom that Pathy phoned after a friend told him about the company’s proposed mission to the space station. “I would have been one of the first people to talk to Mark,” remembers López-Alegría. “He had a lot of safety questions. I remember that.”

Pathy also remembers those first conversations. “I was intrigued when I heard about Axiom, but I honestly didn’t think it would go anywhere. I was expecting to find out it was a long-term thing, like putting your name down for a flight to Mars.

“The more I looked into the company, the more I talked to them, the more I realized ‘these guys are really doing this. This isn’t a joke.’ The day I realized I could actually go into space — it was a shock.”

Pathy (centre) takes part in a training session with crewmates Eytan Stibbe (left) and Larry Connor (right). (Photo: Courtesy of NASA)
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López-Alegría says Pathy should not have been surprised to make the team. “When I was recruiting astronauts for NASA, we always asked one question after the person left the room: ‘Would you want to be in space with that person?’ The answer with Mark was always ‘yes.’”

Things moved quickly for Pathy after he received the official invite from Axiom in 2019. He has travelled to Houston on multiple occasions to take part in training for the mission, joined there by the other two men chosen for the flight — American entrepreneur Larry Connor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe of Israel.

Pathy immediately contacted the Montreal Children’s Hospital and the Canadian Space Agency to arrange to take part in health-related research projects during the mission. “I don’t want to be a tourist,” explains Pathy. “I want this mission to be meaningful, to be of benefit to people, and doing health-related experiments is one way I can do that.” The projects, led by the hospital’s clinician-researchers, include research that aims to unravel some of the mysteries surrounding the chronic pain and sleep disturbances some astronauts experience during space travel, an environment characterized by microgravity, exposure to radiation and isolation. Interestingly, the health impacts of microgravity are similar to those experienced by children who lead sedentary lifestyles — an all-toofamiliar consequence of the pandemic. The hope is that the mission will provide data that can be used to help youth here on Earth. In total, Pathy will take part in a dozen research projects, working with a number of universities on experiments that were facilitated by the Canadian Space Agency.

He also spent time in the lead-up to the mission setting up connections with Canadian high schools. He will be providing
science, technology, engineering and mathematics programming to about a dozen high schools based around his experiences. The Royal Canadian Geographical Society worked with Pathy to facilitate a dedicated partnership with a number of schools with mainly Indigenous student populations, using art, photography and question-and-answer sessions to engage students in discussions about the conservation, restoration and protection of the water ecosystems so important to their communities.

The man who says he would have loved to fly into space with no one knowing his name has also been forced to hire a communications consultant to handle the flood of media enquiries. It’s all a new experience for the “quiet, humble” millionaire from Westmount, as López-Alegría describes Pathy.

And how does López-Alegría, the man who holds the record for the second-most spacewalks of all time (10), think Pathy will do in space?

“He’ll do great. It will change his life,” he says. “That’s usually what happens.” 

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