“Save me a seat!” I can just see pilot and investor John Shoffner saying that as he lays down his money. And he’s not paying for just any ride! Since May of 2021, he’s been waiting for his chance to be a space tourist on his way to the International Space Station (ISS).
John Shoffner has crammed much into his 67 years. He’s an athlete who loves the extreme. His resume includes over 3,000 skydives and base jumps. He became a pilot at age 17 and has logged over 8,500 flight hours. Among other things, he enjoys hang gliding, competes in motorsports, and has been a lifelong space enthusiast.
Shoffner’s “ride” into space will be powered by SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket. He will be one of a four-person crew riding inside the Dragon spacecraft, traveling to the ISS. It’s the second private astronaut mission to go there and launches from Cape Canaveral in early May.
So, who else will go on this journey? The Dragon spacecraft will be commanded by 63-year-old Peggy Whitson. She’s a former NASA astronaut coming out of retirement to assist SpaceX. No slowing down for her! Whitson is the first female commander of a private space mission. The ISS is somewhere she’s been before.
Whitson has had an impressive career so far. She is from the NASA class of 1996, a biochemist, and a researcher. She has many awards and titles to her credit. Among her accomplishments: Oldest woman spacewalker; Most spacewalks (10 of them); She was the oldest woman of her time to go into space (at age 57). She now has a total of 665 days in space and still counting. That’s more than any other American and more than any woman.
Also added to the mission are two Saudi astronauts. They were chosen in part for their degrees in aeronautics and biomedicine. And they’re just youngsters. Each has celebrated half the birthdays of Commander Whitson or space tourist Shoffner.
Ali Alqarni is 31 and a captain in the Royal Saudi Air Force. He has 12 years of experience flying fighter aircraft; he’s logged some 2,387 flight hours.
Rayyanah Barnawi is 33 and a biomedical researcher. She’s had almost a decade of experience in laboratories studying breast cancer and doing cancer stem-cell research.
During their ten days at the ISS, Crew Dragon will be performing various research experiments, including researching the effects of microgravity on stem cell production. They’ll teach and engage audiences around the world as they promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—known as STEM education for short.
It’s not all serious stuff, though. Space tourist Shoffner wants to encourage dreams and creativity. He’s hosting a space art contest right now for the upcoming mission and asking youngsters to think about the question, “What would it look like if we lived in space?”
Shoffner will pick multiple winners, awarding best in the art genre and top work in the poetry genre, from three different age groups. He’s seeking submissions from young 5-year-olds up to those of age 18. He’s after everything from visual art, such as paintings and drawings, to writings and poetry. The six winners and their work will be recognized live by Shoffner from the International Space Station!
So, save those seats! A young Iowa farm girl is now all grown up and commanding the next Axiom Mission 2 to the ISS. Young Peggy Whitson was inspired towards a future space career by seeing the 1969 moon landing on television.
Beside her in the Dragon spacecraft will sit a small-town Kentucky boy, now all grown up and probably grinning from ear to ear! At age eight, John Shoffner formed a young astronaut’s club in Middlesboro, Kentucky. Now he’s going to be a space tourist! So, who knows where dreams can take us? Be ready, get your seat, and enjoy the ride!
The latest launch time is May 8, 2023, at 10:43 PM ET.