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Mount Ayr graduate and record-setting astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson is headed back to the International Space Station (ISS), but this time as the commander of the second-ever private planned private mission to the ISS, with the aim of advancing science in orbit.
Whitson and veteran GT3-class race car driver John Shoffner, a long-time pilot and and active supporter of life science research, will anchor a four-person crew launching to the International Space Station aboard Axiom Space’s second commercial trip to orbit.
“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 press release announcing her latest mission. “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. In the time we’ve already spent together as crewmates, it’s clear to me that John will be an excellent pilot and researcher. It’s a pleasure to take him under my wing.”
For Shoffner, the feeling is mutual.
“Growing up, I closely followed every NASA flight of Gemini and Apollo,” Shoffner said in the press release. “Now to experience astronaut training teamed with Peggy is an honor. I am also excited about our upcoming work with 10x Genomics in this first step towards making their single-cell technologies available to researchers in a microgravity environment. I look forward to the process of testing and validating this technology for future groundbreaking work in low-Earth orbit.”
Axiom touted Whitson’s experience as key to her commanding their second commercial mission.
During her 22-year career at NASA, Whitson became the ISS’s first female commander, the first ISS Science Officer, and set and still holds the American record for time spent in space. She holds a doctorate in biochemistry and ranks ninth in the world for most time in space, logging nearly 666 days in orbit during three long-duration stays aboard the International Space Station. A veteran of 10 spacewalks, she retired from NASA in 2018.
She will return to flight as a private citizen and commander of Ax-2.
“The first thing you do when you get down back on the ground is try and figure out when your next flight is,” Whitson told CBS News. “So when this opportunity came up, I was jumping up and down for it.”
Whitson and Shoffner are also currently training to serve as backup commander and pilot for Axiom’s Ax-1, the first-ever fully private mission to the ISS slated for launch on a SpaceX Crew Dragon in early 2022.