Former NASA astronaut to lead commercial space flight to International Space Station
Former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who holds the American record for time spent in space, is slated to lead a commercial space flight to the International Space Station (ISS), along with John Shoffner, a pilot and champion GT racer.
Whitson and Shoffner are set to anchor Axiom Space’s Ax-2 mission, according to a Tuesday press release from the company.
Axiom said it will compete to dispatch the Ax-2 mission once NASA announces the next private astronaut mission, which is expected to open in the fall of 2022, according to CBS News. The company has not yet revealed who will complete the four-member crew.
Whitson and Shoffner will undergo training in Axiom’s standard astronaut program to prepare for the mission, according to the company.
Shoffner will also receive specialized spacecraft operations training to help the commander during the flight as pilot of the crew capsule, the company noted.
Whitson previously worked at NASA as an astronaut for 22 years, and became the ISS’s first female commander and first ISS Science Officer, according to Axiom.
The former astronaut said she is “thrilled” about the opportunity to launch back into space.
“I’m thrilled to get to fly to space again and lead one of the first of these pioneering missions, marking a new era of human spaceflight,” Whitson said in a statement. “But even more than that, I’m eager for the chance on Ax-2 to open space up to the first full generation of private astronauts and directly link John to the research opportunities on the ISS.”
Shoffner, though not an astronaut, is a pilot, champion GT racer and an active supporter of life science research, according to Axiom. He called the opportunity to complete a mission in space with Whitson “an honor.”
“Growing up, I closely followed every NASA flight of Gemini and Apollo,” Shoffner said in a statement. “Now to experience astronaut training teamed with Peggy is an honor.”
Axiom is scheduled to launch the first-ever fully private mission to the ISS in early 2022, according to the company. That trip will occur on a SpaceX Crew Dragon, and be led by former astronaut and Axiom Vice President Michael Lopez-Alegria, CBS News reported.
Alegria will be on board with three wealthy investors for a 10-day mission, the network noted.
Whitson and Shoffner, according to Axiom, are currently training to be backup commander and pilot for Ax-1.
According to CBS News, that upcoming mission is part of a new NASA program that permits up to two Private Astronaut Missions, known as PAMs, per year on a non-interference basis with the lab’s professional crews.