Former NASA astronaut Gregory "Box" Johnson visited Space Nation's training exercise in May 2018 in Iceland. Credit: Space Nation

SAN FRANCISCO — Former NASA Astronaut Greg “Box” Johnson will become chief space officer for Space Nation, the Finnish startup offering space training experiences for people around the world, the company will announce May 28.

In his new role, the former space shuttle Endeavour pilot will advise Finland’s Space Nation on its Astronaut Program, a global competition that promises to send a winner into space every year, as well as the startup’s experimental research on the International Space Station.

Earlier in May, Johnson visited Space Nation’s first training exercise in Iceland, which was reserved for social media influencers, people with large followings for posts or blogs. In Iceland, the influencers took part in the type of  challenges future Space Nation astronaut candidates can expect, including driving Astrobotic’s CubeRover and conducting an extensive search and rescue exercise.

“I first heard about Space Nation about 18 months ago and became fascinated by their approach and aim to democratize space,” Johnson said in a statement. “Going through the astronaut training program has taught me so much and being in space seeing the Earth from above is a life changing experience; an experience we hope to be able to share with people on Earth no matter where they are, through the Space Nation Astronaut Program.”

Space Nation’s global astronaut competition begins with the Space Nation Navigator, a smartphone app to help people build teamwork and problem-solving skills through a series of physical and mental challenges. Top competitors will be eligible for astronaut training competitions with the leading scorer winning a ride to space. Space Nation plans to purchase commercial suborbital rides for initial winners and eventually send victors on commercial orbital flights, Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola, Space Nation captain and co-founder, said during a recent interview.

“It is a great asset for Space Nation to get an experienced astronaut like Greg on board our management team,” Vähä-Jaakkola said in a statement. “His first-hand experience from extensive astronaut training and working on board the International Space Station will be invaluable to us in the development of our programs and new partnerships.”

Space Nation conducted astronaut training in North East Iceland under a cooperative agreement with ICExTech, an Icelandic space company that documented NASA field training in the same region for Apollo astronauts.

Astrobotic is developing the two-kilogram CubeRover with Carnegie Mellon University under a NASA Small Business Innovative Research phase 2 award that Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Astrobotic announced in March 2018.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...