Astronaut ‘lands’ at Norco, Luling elementary schools

There was a special energy about the 5th grade students at Norco Elementary School last week as they directed questions to a unique visitor to the classroom.

How many people, after all, can say they’ve met someone who’s been to outer space?

Those students as well as fifth graders at Luling Elementary School had the rare opportunity to talk to an astronaut as John Shoffner, pilot for Axiom Space’s upcoming Ax-2 mission to the International Space Station on the SpaceX Dragon, took the time to visit and speak about his experiences from beyond the earth.

“Are things heavy in space?” one student asked.

“You can move a refrigerator with just your little finger,” Shoffner revealed.

“No way!” came the response from the group.

Shoffner makes these visits because he hopes to inspire children who might dream of becoming an astronaut like him – Shoffner wants them to know this goal is reachable, even as far above the clouds as the ultimate destination might be.

“Everything I can share about my experiences at work makes it easier for them to envision being there,” he said. “Being a part of it. That’s when the magic starts to happen, when they grasp that they can be a part of it and that it’s something achievable. When they see me, it’s not just something they read about – they see a person and can think ‘maybe I can be that person.’ Maybe pursue it … hopefully they do.”

He said that throughout his training and flight, Shoffner will share his experience and learning with students and educators around the globe.

Shoffner notes that when he was young and had dreams of going to space himself, he didn’t have anything in school that drew those dreams out of him and set him toward that goal – that was something he found later on. But his hope is he can help jump start that process for these students early on. Shoffner believes that the interests people maintain in the formative years of ages 10-14 are likely near the core of who they are as a person. “Happy people do great things, and we are happiest when we do what we love,” he believes.

“That voice inside that wanted to do this, it never left me. And I see maybe we can bring that voice out (of students) and actively engage it. I think the STEM toolbox in education is a good way to help make that happen.”

As one might expect, he gets asked some unique – and humorous – questions on his travels from school to school.

“I was asked recently, ‘what happens when the rocket blows up?’ Thankfully, I couldn’t say,” Shoffner said.

Shoffner will serve as pilot for Axiom Space’s Ax-2 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on the SpaceX Dragon. Shoffner currently lives in Knoxville, Tenn. and says he is honored to have this opportunity to not only achieve one of his greatest life’s dreams but also to use the Ax-2 mission to ignite a passion for STEM education in teachers and students worldwide to each pursue their ambitions.

Born in Fairbanks, Alaska, and raised in Southeast Kentucky, Shoffner has been a pilot since he was 17 — accumulating more than 8,500 flight hours, a veteran of airshows for more than 25 years, and holding commercial, instrument, single- and multi-engine ratings in both land and sea aircraft and helicopters, along with ratings in ex-military jets and high-performance radial engine aircraft.

Space and science have served as primary interests throughout Shoffner’s life. At 8-years-old, when the space race was getting underway, Shoffner formed a young astronauts club with friends in his hometown of Middlesboro, Kentucky closely following the missions of Gemini and Apollo. His early interests also extended to amateur radio and photography, getting his ham license, and building his first radios at 13 and operating a darkroom in his parent’s basement. During Ax-2, he is planning many amateur radio contacts and photo projects from the ISS.

The experienced pilot has accumulated 8,500 flight hours.


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