Former Astronaut Peggy Whitson Will Return to Space without NASA’s Help

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Privately funded space infrastructure company Axiom Space has announced its picks for the mission commander and pilot slots of its second private mission to space, dubbed Ax-2: retired former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and GT racer John Shoffner.

The mission will mark Axiom’s second private flight to the International Space Station. The flight will use SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, which has successfully flown three crews of government astronauts to the ISS in the past year under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Peggy Whitson, 61, is an extremely experienced astronaut, having logged 665 days in space spanning three separate missions (which, by the way, is the most for any of NASA’s astronauts). She was also the first Space Station Commander and holds a doctorate in biochemistry from Rice University and previously served as the deputy division chief for the Medical Sciences Division at Johnson Space Center, which is NASA’s Houston-based headquarters for astronauts.

She’ll be joined by John Shoffner, 65, who is a trained pilot, a racecar driver, and an investor in the life sciences industry. He started a GT3 motorsports racing team—J2-Racing—with his wife.

Peggy Whitson and John Shoffner

“We are entering a new era of human spaceflight, and I’m eager for the chance to hand the baton directly to the first generation of private astronauts,” she said. Both Shoffner and Whitson have been training as backups for Axiom’s Ax-1 flight, which is slated to pay an 8-day visit to the ISS in early 2022.

Axiom still hasn’t hammered out the exact date for the Ax-2 flight, but is hoping to launch about six months after Ax-1 goes in January 2022. Scheduling is quite tricky, as the International Space Station only has two international docking adapters (which double as parking spaces for mission vehicles). The ISS, as you can imagine, always has a packed schedule so it can be tough to navigate traffic and fit in yet another launch.

Additional crew members haven’t been chosen yet but will need to go through the same rigorous training before launching. NASA has adjusted the costs for hosting private astronaut missions, too: The base is now $5.2 million per person along with $4.8 million per mission to cover planning and integration. Plus, per-passenger day rates are anywhere between $88,000 and $164,000, which covers all kinds of things like cargo, food, and other services. Axiom works with NASA to make sure all the costs are covered and baked into the final single ticket price.

Axiom is also working to build its own private space station, which would eventually be attached to the International Space Station as early as 2024. The company was founded by veteran NASA ISS Program Manager Michael Suffredini, who oversaw the station transition to commercial use. Whitson believes her mission will help further that by taking one of the first steps towards building the infrastructure needed to make more crewed commercial missions.

via The Verge

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