KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — When SpaceX Dragon leaves earth later this month in the Axiom Space launch, a Knoxville, Tennessee resident will be at the helm.

John Shoffner, a native of Middlesboro who lives in East Tennessee, will join the International Space Station for a 12-day mission with American astronaut legend and former commander of the ISS Peggy Whitson, who will serve as the commander.

The launch is scheduled for 5:37 p.m. EST on May 21, according to Kennedy Space Center.

John Shoffner

Shoffner wanted to share his space experience with those in his hometown in Kentucky.

“When I was growing up in Middlesboro… that was the beginning of the space race,” he said. “It was hard not to fall in love with space.”

He partnered with Middlesboro schools to provide students with an inside look into life on the space station and his preparation for the mission as a part of the STEM initiative.

On March 24, students from Middlesboro Middle School and students of aerospace engineering from Middlesboro High School participated in a live video chat with Shoffner and Whitson from Axiom Mission Control.

During the live session, the astronauts shared some details of their upcoming mission and express what it is like to prepare for the launch. Shoffner and Whitson fielded questions from the students like, “How do the astronauts mentally prepare for a mission” and “What types of research astronauts would be engaged in during their time in orbit?”

Students also participated in activities including rocket design and construction, lunar and Martian habitat design and reflective writing about space survival as the launch draws closer.

A group of art students from Middlesboro High School designed a logo that will be featured on the flight suits of the Axiom astronauts.

Students have also taken part in a global art contest sponsored by Shoffner through a partnership with Crayola. The winner of this contest will be announced live from the space station.

While on board the space station, Shoffner will take part in two separate engagements with students on the ground in Middlesboro. One engagement comes through the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station group. The second engagement will be a live interactive video event for students to get a sneak peek into the space station.

“As the mission nears its launch window, Middlesboro has rightfully been abuzz with all things
‘space’ as the town joins in the excitement of such an incredible venture,” according to the news release.