"I'm super excited to join Suni Williams and Josh Cassada on the first operational Boeing crewed mission to the International Space Station," Epps said

By Gabrielle Chung
August 26, 2020 05:28 PM
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Jeanette Epps
Robert Markowitz/NASA

Jeanette Epps is set to make history as the first Black woman to live and work on the International Space Station for a long duration mission.

The astronaut, 49, has been assigned to the NASA's Boeing Starliner-1 mission, a six-month expedition aboard the orbiting space laboratory set to launch in 2021, the agency announced on Tuesday.

Epps will be joined by NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada, who were assigned to the Starliner-1 mission in August 2018.

"I'm super excited to join Suni Williams and Josh Cassada on the first operational Boeing crewed mission to the International Space Station," Epps said in a video shared on her Twitter. "I've flown in helicopters with Suni flying and I've flown in the backseat of a T-38 with Josh flying, and they are both wonderful people to work with, so I'm looking forward to the mission."

This will be the first spaceflight for Epps, who earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1992 before completing a master’s degree in science in 1994 and a doctorate in aerospace engineering in 2000.

A former NASA Graduate Student Researchers Project fellow, Epps worked for the CIA as a technical intelligence officer for seven years before becoming a member of the 2009 astronaut class.

"A huge congratulations to Dr. Jeanette Epps for joining the Starliner team," Williams said in a video of her own. "Looking forward to working with you and flying with you, Jeanette."

"Welcome to the team, Jeanette!" Cassada said in his own statement. "We'll see you soon."

Epps was scheduled to become the first Black astronaut to participate in a long duration mission aboard the ISS in 2018, but she was replaced by her substitute Serena Auñón-Chancellor six months before the launch. At the time, NASA did not give a reason as to why Epps was taken off the team.

"I don't know where the decision came from and how it was made, in detail or at what level," Epps said of her removal during the Tech Open Air festival that year.

When asked if she believed racism or sexism played a part in the decision, Epps replied, "There's no time to really be concerned about sexism and racism and things like that, because we have to perform."

"And if it comes into play, then you're hindering the mission, and you're hindering the performance," she continued. "And so whether or not it is a factor, I can't speculate what people are thinking and doing unless I have a little bit more information."

Based on NASA's current schedule, the first Black astronaut to live and work on the ISS will likely be Victor Glover, who is set to embark on the SpaceX Crew-1 mission on Oct. 23.