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Ex-NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson to Command Second Axiom Space Mission to ISS

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 25, 2021
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Axiom Space Ax-2 Commander Peggy Whitson and Pilot John Shoffner. (Credit: Axiom Space)

HOUSTON (Axiom Space PR) – Axiom Space on Tuesday revealed the commander and pilot of its second commercial mission proposed to fly to the International Space Station and announced the proposed crew’s intended research while on orbit. Axiom will compete to fly the Ax-2 mission when NASA announces the next private astronaut mission opportunity. If awarded, Ax-2 will further the Houston-based space infrastructure leader’s expansion of the commercial human spaceflight market and cement the research opportunities it can make possible for private industry in low-Earth orbit. 

Whitson, one of the world’s most revered astronauts who during a 22-year career at NASA became the ISS’ first female commander, the first ISS Science Officer, and set and still holds the American record for time spent in space, will return to flight as a private citizen and commander of Ax-2. Alongside her as the planned mission pilot will be John Shoffner – a pilot, champion GT racer, and active supporter of life science research from Knoxville, Tenn.

Whitson and Shoffner will train together in Axiom’s standard astronaut program to prepare them to lead the flight. In addition to their flight training, they will learn how to translate terrestrial single-cell genomic methods to an orbital science process in collaboration with Pleasanton, Calif.-based 10x Genomics, a global leader in developing products to master biology for advancing human health whose offerings are used by all of the top 100 global research institutions.

“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. “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.”

The mission will complete an unconventional path to space for Shoffner, a lifelong athlete and health & science enthusiast.

“Growing up, I closely followed every NASA flight of Gemini and Apollo,” Shoffner said. “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.”

In addition to standard training on ISS systems, Shoffner will receive specialized spacecraft operations training to assist the commander during flight as pilot of the crew capsule and develop with Whitson the protocols necessary to conduct single-cell sequencing experiments in microgravity.

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. As with this proposed Ax-2 mission, Axiom will also compete for the opportunity to fly commercial missions to the ISS approximately every six months, subject to NASA approval and as traffic to the ISS allows.

 “Humankind’s expansion off the planet, and the benefits it can bring back, will only be sustained by building and serving demand for expanded life and work in Low Earth Orbit,” Axiom CEO Michael Suffredini said. “There is no one better than Peggy – who would be history’s second private mission commander to the ISS – to lead the way on a mission so central to that plan, and we are thrilled to have beside her a pilot as driven and committed to this vision as John to cement this new era.” 

About Axiom Space

Axiom Space is guided by the vision of a thriving home in space that benefits every human, everywhere. The leader in providing space infrastructure as a service, Axiom offers end-to-end missions to the International Space Station today while privately developing its successor – a permanent commercial destination in Earth’s orbit that will sustain human growth off the planet and bring untold benefits back home. More information about Axiom can be found at

9 responses to “Ex-NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson to Command Second Axiom Space Mission to ISS”

  1. Robert G. Oler says:

    NASA keeps having the props pulled out from under it

    • Emmet Ford says:

      I don’t get what you mean.

      This is the successful execution of a NASA playbook. The commercial crew public/private partnership had a private company put skin in the game and end up with a commercial service that it is able to provide to private customers. This is a proof of concept for NASA purchasing services from private industry as one customer among many. Winning.

      Further, the existence of a private company that can provide this service makes the Axiom business case seem to be a capital risk worth taking (perhaps). That makes possible Axiom’s development of ISS modules later intended to become a free flying station. That advances NASA’s plan for commercial space stations to replace the ISS so they can focus their resources elsewhere. Winning.

      In the mean time, the increased cadence of traffic to the ISS creates a market in seats, providing NASA greater degrees of freedom to meet logistical contingencies. Winning.

      To me, this looks like a NASA plan coming together, a success story. They wanted to bootstrap economic activity in LEO. They appear to be bootstrapping economic activity in LEO. Winning.

      Next comes cislunar space.

      This is what Bill Nelson should be talking about, not China. Look what we’re doing. What’s China gonna do? But I guess he does not think it’s a compelling story to sell to Congress. It does not address the all important topic of money spent in their districts.

      Actually, Nelson didn’t even have the China drum to beat on during his confirmation hearing. He was trotting out 20 year old talking points. Someone must have got to him since then to feed him the China story. Maybe someone will feed him this story. It’s a better story.

      • duheagle says:

        It is a better story.

        But Nelson’s Congressional audience probably wouldn’t think so because, as you accurately note, it’s a story that features no obvious place in which “customary graft” may figure.

        And this latest part of the story also features a second ex-NASA astronaut on the payroll of Axiom.

        Ex-astronauts, once having exited NASA, used to go off and either do non-aerospace stuff – like all of Alan Shepard’s down-to-earth businesses, including oil wildcatting and a beer distributorship – or took some Senior Vice President in Charge of Playing Golf With and Buttering Up Congressmen job with one of the surviving major contractors. Then there was the evergreen role of trophy “get” on one or more corporate boards. All were nice respectable forms of ex-Astronaut employment.

        But there have always been a few, going all the way back to Pete Conrad, who looked for post-NASA ways of staying in the space game. More and more now seem to be finding such. That trickle is likely to become a growing torrent once Starship is proved out in unmanned service and the focus shifts to passenger service of various kinds.

        And when SpaceX follows up early NASA Artemis missions with lunar and martian industrialism missions of its own, it’s going to be Katy bar the door. Anyone who has ever been in space, wishes to return and is still fit enough will be sending resumes to Starbase, TX without regard to place of national origin. For the Russians and the Euros, this will be just one more indignity suffered at the hands of Elon Musk. There will be sectors of NASA none too pleased either, but grin-and-bear-it will be the order of the day. What choice would NASA have, really?

        So astronaut training, which is already being at least tentatively addressed in the private sector, will quickly both dramatically expand and move almost entirely out of government hands. Astronaut career paths will proliferate and, increasingly, feature no government service at any point.

        This evolution will be readily observable by mid-decade. It will be status quo by the middle of the next.

        • Terry Stetler says:

          Pretty safe bet this will be another Crew Dragon mission. Boeing will only have 2 Spacecraft and I don’t see them flying operational NASA crew missions until Q2 2022 at the earliest. Meanwhile, Dragons every damned where.

        • Emmet Ford says:

          I did say next comes cislunar space, but I am skeptical about lunar surface activity that’s not funded by the government attracting private capital. I’m sure there is lots of great stuff to be had on the Moon. Asteroids have been pulverizing themselves on its surface for 4 billion years. But that does not mean you can actually turn a profit harvesting those resources. That could take a while. That could take a lot more governmental infrastructure building and other activities to give private industry the opportunity to refine their processes and lower their costs. We have resources at home.

          But if you are talking about private industry supporting the building of an international Moon village and getting down to the business of some in situ resource utilization, water, air and propellant, all on the government’s dime, then sure. That certainly sounds better than studying the effects of zero G in LEO. But Bernie’s not going to like it.

      • Robert G. Oler says:

        Emmet…well what you said is what I was saying.. 🙂 as well as Duheagle

        my point was more or less “what does NASA do” in the current scheme of things. NASA is I would argue losing its engineering mission to private companies as well as most of its operational stuff. slowly but surely Axiom is moving to take over the space station…and SpacX experimental engineering…

        Nelson needs to be thinking about the future of NASA (cue another op ed 🙂

    • duheagle says:

      NASA keeps yielding more and more of its operations-oriented work to the private sector. That is an inevitable progression given NASA’s rather wretched record in pursuing operations of any kind. NASA needs to revert to its NACA roots. That isn’t pulling props from under it, it’s a return to exclusive attention to the only thing it was ever really good at.

      • Emmet Ford says:

        NASA excels at planetary science missions. Their astronomy missions need some shoring up. Not that it’s a disaster. Most projects go quite well. But when one goes off the rails, man does it go off the rails. Hubble and JWST come to mind.

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