Judging panel to include Peggy Whitson (NASA Icon and Ax-2 Commander), Kaci Heins (Limitless Space Institute Education Director), Monique Lorden (Visual Artist and Poet), Ariel Ekblaw (Director, MIT Space Exploration Initiative), and John Shoffner (Ax-2 Pilot and Project Visionary)

HOUSTON, March 9, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) advocate and business pioneer John Shoffner is a life-long space enthusiast. At 8-years-old, he formed a young astronauts club with his friends in his hometown of Middlesboro, Kentucky. While space was his first passion, it didn’t make for a widely accepted career, so he took a more traditional route. Despite finding success in the fiber optic telecommunications industry, John’s wild ambition to become an astronaut never escaped him. In fact, he held onto a painting he created at 10 years old of an astronaut floating in space. Little did he know that painting would later accompany him to the International Space Station (ISS) and inspire a global art contest. Now, John will serve as Pilot for Axiom Space’s Ax-2 mission to the ISS on the SpaceX Dragon this coming Spring. John’s story is one that proves dreams never fade and creativity knows no limits.


Students from around the world are encouraged to let their imagination soar! The International Space Art and Poetry contest invites children ages 5-18 to create an original drawing, painting or written poetry showcasing what it would look like if we lived in space!

Submissions will be categorized by age divisions (5-8, 9-13, 14-18) and by genre (visual art and poetry). Students from around the world will have the chance to showcase vivid color, creativity, and curiosity as they take us on a journey into space as they envision it. Two representatives from each age division, one art and one poetry, will receive special recognition LIVE from space.

“Creativity allows us to honor what we know and explore what we don’t,” said contest judge Monqie Lorden. “As an artist and poet, I would love to be surprised by the unexpected and comforted by the familiar. Many of us will only travel to space by way of the pages in our sketchbooks and notepads. I am excited to see submissions that overflow with wonder, dreams, and joy.”

Ax-2 Commander Peggy Whitson will also serve as a panel judge. Commander Whitson has a total of 665 days in space – more than any other woman or American in the world. Kaci Heins, contest thought leader and Education Director at Limitless Space Institute will join the distinguished group alongside Ariel Ekblaw, Director at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Space Exploration Initiative and Project Visionary John Shoffner.

“This contest provides a unique opportunity to see the possibilities of living in space through the lens of a child,” said Heins. “The students in our classrooms today are the future workforce of space exploration. The more opportunities they have to express their vision, the more they may realize that their dreams can become a reality.”

Students will be scored on thematic accuracy, interpretation, creativity, technical quality and overall impression. Most importantly, they’ll have the freedom to dream without limits – a concept that often escapes us over time.

International Space Art and Poetry Contest launches on March 9 at 8am GMT and concludes on April 17 at 12pm GMT. Parents, guardians, educators are encouraged to share with their students.

Visit for submissions and full contest rules!


In partnership with Limitless Space Institute, Shoffner’s ambition is to return from space with the tools to form a global STEAM curriculum. STEAM transforms textbook copy into real-life practices that are as expressive as students themselves. Shoffner’s upcoming curriculum will include microgravity demonstrations from the ISS including playing ball in space and how it differs from a game of catch on Earth, showcasing how the ISS makes water and power accessible from low-Earth orbit, visually explaining how astronauts keep their socks from floating around when they open their drawers and so much more.

While many resources exist within STEAM education, there’s a gap in coaching students on the pathway to career opportunities in the real world. Shoffner aspires to show how these learnings are applicable and bring awareness to vacancies that exist in STEAM fields.

During his time on the ISS, Shoffner will engage in live classroom Q&As in partnership with MIT and their robust network of K-12 affiliates. He will also connect with a class at Middlesboro Middle School in Kentucky, where his love for space was ignited. Shoffner’s belief that the formative years of 10-14 are the core of who we are as a person. This notion has built the foundation for his STEAM program.

“This is a long term journey is to inspire a generation,” said Shoffner. “I want to lift lessons from textbook pages, and make them relatable to real-life situations through a visual curriculum. My mission isn’t to end with space, it’s to start with space.”

For press inquiries, education and speaking engagements please contact:
[email protected] | 954.296.1121

Photos and video assets available for social and editorial use at:

Follow John’s journey to space at @johnpshoffner on Instagram and Twitter

About Limitless Space Institute

Limitless Space Institute is a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire and educate the next generation to travel beyond our solar system and to research and develop enabling technologies. LSI advances the pursuit of relevant deep space exploration through internal, external, and collaborative R&D, scholarships, fellowships, and a K-12 education and outreach program.

LSI was founded by Dr. Kam Ghaffarian, previously founder of the award-winning contractor Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, and recognized by Ernst & Young as Entrepreneur of the Year. LSI’s president is Brian “BK” Kelly, who served with NASA for 37 years, most recently as Director of Flight Operations, responsible for selecting astronauts and planning and implementing human spaceflight missions. Dr. Harold “Sonny” White leads LSI’s Advanced R&D, bringing decades of research experience in the advanced power and propulsion domain, most recently serving as the NASA Johnson Space Center Engineering Directorate’s Advanced Propulsion Theme Lead. The Director of Education is Kaci Heins, who has 20 years of experience in informal and formal classroom settings. She has been the recipient of four national teaching awards including the Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award from the Space Foundation and NASA.

About Crayola Experience

Discover the magic of color at Crayola’s premier and one-of-a-kind family destination packed with creative activities and attractions immersed in a world of color. Bigger, brighter, and bolder than ever, the colorful adventures of Crayola Experience help kids and adults alike explore art and technology, express their creativity, and experience color in a whole new way. Crayola Experience also is home to The Crayola Store, featuring the world’s largest selection of Crayola products and unique souvenirs, such as plush characters and apparel. The brand’s flagship attraction is in Easton, Pa., the birthplace of Crayola crayons. Other locations include Orlando, Fla.; Mall of America (Bloomington, Minn.); Plano, Texas; and Chandler, Ariz. To learn more, visit

About MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative

With society at the cusp of interplanetary civilization, the MIT Space Exploration Initiative takes a unique approach to humanity’s horizons. We are building the technologies and artifacts for life in space that will empower and delight Earth’s citizens for this new phase of our collective existence. For the MIT community and our collaborators, the Space Exploration Initiative leads space research and launch opportunities across annual zero-g flights, suborbital launches, ISS missions, and MIT’s return to the Moon. The Space Exploration Initiative supports up to 40 research projects in a given year, extensive STEAM outreach, and a team of 50+ researchers.

About Axiom Space and Ax-2: The Second Privately Funded Mission to the ISS

Axiom Space is guided by the vision of a thriving home in space that benefits every human, everywhere. The leading provider of human spaceflight services and developer of human-rated space infrastructure, Axiom operates end-to-end missions to the ISS today while building its successor, Axiom Station, the first permanent commercial destination in Earth’s orbit that will sustain human growth off the planet and bring untold benefits back home.

The Axiom Mission 2 (Ax-2) astronauts are part of the latest class of space pioneers and Axiom Space’s next crew to expand access to the ISS and low-Earth orbit. Aboard the orbiting laboratory, the four-person, multinational crew will conduct extensive research, investigate novel technologies, and engage with audiences around the world as champions of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics. Their efforts will continue to lay the groundwork and establish the key capabilities needed to build out and operate Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station. 

More information about Axiom Space can be found at

SOURCE The International Space Art and Poetry Contest

Originally published at
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