GT Racer John Shoffner Is Going To Space With Axiom

Illustration for article titled GT Racer John Shoffner Is Going To Space With Axiom
Photo: Axiom Space

There is one single profession cooler than being a race car driver: being an astronaut. In the second half of 2022, though, GT racer John Shoffner is going to have both professions under his belt when he heads into space with Axiom.


Shoffner epitomizes the gentleman driver, having put together a successful career as a businessman and president of the Dura-Line telecommunications company before forming a race team with his wife Janine. Fittingly, they named their endeavor J2-Racing, with both halves of the couple competing in various forms of GT racing.

But when you have a chance to go out to space, you take it.

Shoffner, with no experience, is joining retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson on Axiom’s private trip to the International Space Station. Whitson will serve as captain while Shoffner will be the pilot. Shoffner is, at the very least, a trained pilot for aircraft.

Whitson is a badass in her own right. From The Verge:

Whitson, 61, has tallied 665 days in space across three missions, the most for any NASA astronaut. She and Shoffner have been training as backups for Ax-1, which is slated to launch three entrepreneurs and former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría to the ISS in January 2022. That flight will use SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which has flown three crews of government astronauts to the ISS since May last year under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The ride for Ax-2 hasn’t been confirmed yet, Axiom says, and the two other Ax-2 crewmates are still being sorted out.

The purpose of the mission is for Shoffner and Whitson to conduct research for 10x Genomics, a biotech company that manufactures gene sequencing technology for researchers. That’s where Shoffner’s involvement comes in—he’s an investor in the company. The two will test single-cell sequencing methods in microgravity.

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

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Whitson will serve as captain while Shoffner will be the pilot

FYI, there’s some weird terminology when it comes to “piloting” a spacecraft. The one generally in charge of flying the craft is the “commander” while their assistant/backup is termed the “pilot”. I’ve heard that this oddity of nomenclature comes from early NASA astronauts having too much ego to let themselves be called a “copilot”, as such a position would be called on an aircraft - to placate their fighter-jock ego, they let one be the “commander” and the other be the “pilot”. (Everyone else is generally termed some kind of “specialist”, typically “mission specialist” or “payload specialist”).

Of course, this is somewhat irrelevant on the Dragon spacecraft they’ll be flying, because it’s designed to fly itself from ground to docking - and it does so regularly, because the same spacecraft flies missions with no crew at all, when bringing cargo up to the station. The manual controls are just backups, for when something goes wrong or when something unplanned needs to be done.