PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Private citizen and pilot John Shoffner is going to space.
Shoffner will join NASA’s first female commander of the International Space Station, Peggy Whitson, on a trip to the ISS aboard a SpaceX rocket for an Axiom Space mission. Their mission is to take science into space, perform research in microgravity and ultimately pave the path to a new centralized space hub.
“Eight or 10 days I’m on the station, I want to do something purposeful. I study research and investments in life sciences,” Shoffner explained. “We’ll be partnering with a fantastic company: 10x Genomic based in Pleasanton, California — leader in single-cell genomics research products and equipment.”
Shoffner said Whitson is his “favorite astronaut” and will be helping him with his research as she’s also a biochemist. They will study things like the impact space has on the human body.
“On Earth, people affected by osteoporosis will lose 1% bone density in about a year. In space — in micro-gravity — you lose that in about one month,” he said. “Learning how for humans to live in space long-term and to exist, particularly if you consider Mars missions, there are things that happen to human bodies in micro-gravity that we don’t fully understand yet and cannot manage adequately.”
Shoffner has long dreamt about becoming an astronaut. Aviation has been a huge part of his life since he was a teen and he’s flown fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. And there are similarities in piloting an aircraft and becoming an astronaut: discipline, checklists, safety, preparation and training.
“That’s what the training is all about,” Shoffner said. “We’re in the middle of a bunch of training episodes, both in the ISS mockup module here and around the world. Launch vehicles to understand what’s required; to manage the process of going to orbit and recovering; living on a station and crew dynamics — it’s a get-along environment.”
As for advice for others seeking successful careers, Shoffner said science is “a very reliable path.”
“That’s what we need a lot of in the U.S. today: good engineers, scientists, researchers. And that’s what space is about — it’s a learning environment. To go to Mars, to go to the moon takes a lot of development. Understanding the physiological effects on people when they’re there a long time. What are our goals as a people to do that? That requires people with dreams and visions and are able to act on those. I’m big on the science and engineering side — I love that and I think that’s what helps us solve problems. Space is full of questions ready to be answered and we need people who are ready to do that.”
Shoffner and Whitson are training to be the backup team for Axiom Space’s first mission, which is slated to blast off in early 2022. They are the main crew for Axiom Mission 2, which will ideally depart Earth about six months after a successful AX-1 mission is completed by the other team.