Crusader staff report
NASA Astronaut Jeanette Epps was on track to become the first African-American crew member on the International Space Station (ISS) in 2018. On Thursday, January 19, NASA announced Epps will no longer be making the Expedition 56/57 mission that was scheduled for this summer.
NASA is not saying why Epps was pulled from the mission. Although other Black astronauts have visited the ISS, she would have been the first African-American long-term crew member.
On his Facebook page, Epps’ brother, Henry accused NASA of racism. The post has since been removed, but a petition to reinstate Epps is still accepting signatures on www.MoveOn.org.
“My sister Dr. Jeannette Epps has been fighting against oppressive racism and misogyny in NASA and now they are holding her back and allowing a Caucasian astronaut to take her place!” Henry Epps wrote in a Facebook post Saturday, January 19.
In an email to the Washington Post, Epps said she was unable to comment on her brother’s post or the reason for the crew change. She clarified that neither she nor anyone in her family started the petition.
Epps told the Post that she did not have a medical condition or family problem that would have prevented her from going on the flight. She told the newspaper that her overseas training in Russia and Kazakhstan had been successful.
“A number of factors are considered when making flight assignments; these decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn’t provide information,” Brandi Dean, a spokesperson for NASA, told The Verge, a technology news and media source.
Epps was one of 14 candidates — out of 3,500 applicants — selected by NASA in 2009 for this mission. It would have been her first time in space.
With a PhD in aerospace engineering, the New York native was a NASA Fellow during graduate school and later worked for Ford Motor Company, where she received both a provisional patent and a U.S. patent for her research, according to NASA. She spent seven years at the CIA as a technical officer before joining the agency.
NASA said Epps is still eligible for potential missions in the future. For now, she will be working out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Born in Syracuse, New York, Epps graduated from Corcoran High School in Syracuse and earned a B.S. degree from Le Moyne College and an M.S. and a Ph.D degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland.
After graduation, Epps worked in research at Ford Motor Company. She then served as a Technical Intelligence Officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. She worked at the CIA for seven years, including deployments to Iraq. On January 4, 2017, NASA announced that Epps would be assigned as a flight engineer to the International Space Station in mid-2018 for Expeditions 56 and 57, becoming the first Black woman on the space station crew. Now, Epps will have to wait for another opportunity as her future remains uncertain.
Epps’ replacement will be Auñón-Chancellor, who along with Epps, was one of 14 astronaut candidates out of 3,500 applicants selected for NASA’s 20th astronaut class in 2009. She has a medical degree and worked as a surgeon and managed medical operations for a range of NASA missions. Auñón-Chancellor will be the first Hispanic woman to live on the space station.
In NASA’s 60-year history, 14 Black astronauts have flown in space. Several have visited the space station. In 2008, astronaut Leland Melvin was part of the space shuttle crew that delivered the Columbus science laboratory to the space station.