Axiom-2 private astronaut focuses on educating next generation of explorers

John Shoffner uses unique access to encourage kids to explore space

Axiom-2 pilot John Shoffner recently returned to Earth after spending 10 days in orbit on the International Space Station.

He said he learned a lot and is excited to share his passion for space exploration with young people.

“I have dreamed of space since I was a young boy. The space race was starting in the 60s when I was growing up and it was easy to be captivated by it and I certainly was. So I spent literally my entire life thinking about what it would be like to be in space, to go to space,” he said.

Shoffner said he trained for up to two years to prepare for the incredible adventure, but liftoff was a little different than he expected.

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“At the moment of liftoff, which was a bit surprising, it wasn’t this big explosive blast and lots of G-forces,” he said. “It was this very initially gentle lift, where we felt the entire vehicle begin to rise. It later accelerated and got a little more dramatic, but those beginning phases, I’ll never forget those.”

Once he got to space and looked back at Earth, he was in for another surprise.

“It’s just now revealing itself to me,” he said. “I’m just now able to talk about it. It’s funny because as a new astronaut onboard the station one of the first things I wanted to do was hurry into the cupola, drop myself in there, look out over the planet and prepare to be moved and amazed and it was truly beautiful to see the Earth sliding by underneath endlessly, but this breakthrough moment didn’t happen right then and I was a little disappointed. ‘So, maybe I’ll come back a little later on,’ and it wasn’t quite that thing. But I can tell you that after returning (to Earth) it’s slowly bringing itself to me. It’s unfolding itself in a way that I could not have imagined. It’s causing me this sense of longing to go back to it and be able to speak to it. This overview effect is real, but it just does not happen on a schedule. It happens to you as an individual in a way that is familiar and comfortable to you.”

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Shoffner has only had his feet back on Earth for a short time but would be excited to buy a second ride back to the space station, despite pushback from people who bash him for paying to take part in the unique experience.

“I would ask them to look at what we do in orbit,” he said. “We conduct research. We provided access to experiment packages that would otherwise wait a long time. We act as a resource. We undertake the training, and we make ourselves available to scientists and researchers to do that. My big effort was to create a conversation so that teachers and educators and parents could look at this and say, ‘My children would like to do this also.’ We demonstrate that we are in the early days of spaceflight, and we have to create that bridge so that it becomes available to others. Whenever commercial aviation was started, it was hugely expensive to people at the time in the 20s. Only people of means could do that. But the continued effort to develop aviation just as now we want to develop space flight in the economy of low earth orbit there has to be a beginning. The participation by people who can is hugely needed. I did my part and I also wanted to contribute some value by creating awareness among teachers, educators and young people that space is real and that we have a space among the stars.”

To learn more about Shoffner’s private trip to the International Space Station and his continued effort to encourage the next generation of space explorers check out Florida’s Fourth Estate. The podcast airs Mondays and Fridays on News 6. You can also watch it anytime on News 6+.

About the Author:

Tiffany produces the News 6+ Takeover at 3:30 p.m., Florida's Fourth Estate and Talk to Tom.