Astronaut Jeanette Epps to be first Black woman to join ISS crew

(CBS News) — NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps will soon make history, becoming the first Black woman to live and work long-term aboard the International Space Station. Her flight is scheduled for 2021.

NASA announced this week that Epps has been assigned to the first operational crewed flight of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. She will join astronauts Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada for a six-month stay on the ISS, the space agency said.

“They are both wonderful people to work with, so I’m looking forward to the mission,” Epps said in a video following the announcement.

On Twitter, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called Epps a “fantastic addition to the Starliner-1 team.”

The mission will mark Epps’ first spaceflight. She was scheduled to launch into space in 2018 — which would have made her the first Black astronaut, man or woman, on an extended space mission — but she was unexpectedly pulled from that mission. The reasons for the change were not explained.

At the time, Epps’ brother, Henry Epps, blamed “oppressive racism” at the space agency for her removal. Epps did not comment on her brother’s statement at the time, but told The Washington Post that she did not have a medical condition or family emergency, adding that her training had been successful.

Her 2018 spot was passed on to astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor.

Epps holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from LeMoyne College, a master’s degree in science and a doctorate in aerospace engineering, both from the University of Maryland, College Park. Before being selected as a member of the 2009 astronaut class, she worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for seven years as a technical intelligence officer.

“So many young girls do need to see someone who looks like them doing things that they never thought they could do,” Epps said in a NASA video celebrating Black History Month in February. “Here I am. I’m doing a lot of these things that you never thought you would be able to do.”

A lot of work still needs to be done before Epps and her crewmates can launch together to the space station. Boeing must conduct two key test flights with the new Starliner — the first uncrewed test flight was unsuccessful, never making it to the ISS after several software glitches.

In 1992, astronaut Mae Jemison became the first Black woman in space. Six African American astronauts have visited the space station during shuttle assembly flights, but none have stayed aboard as long-term crew members.

When NASA astronaut Victor Glover travels to the ISS in October on the first SpaceX Crew Dragon operational mission, he will become the first Black astronaut to join a long-term crew on the ISS.

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