US Astronaut Removed From Mission By NASA Ahead Of ISS Trip

NASA recently announced that they had removed US astronaut Jeanette Epps from the team headed on an upcoming mission to the International Space Station (ISS) just a few months before launch.

International Space Station US Astronaut
By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Making History In Space

The reasons for the removal of this particular US astronaut are unclear, as Jeanette Epps certainly seems to be qualified in all senses of the word. The removal is also significant, as Epps was to be the first African-American US astronaut assigned to the space station team.

CollectSPACE reports that while six African-American astronauts – Robert Curbeam, Alvin Drew, Joan Higginbotham, Leland Melvin, Robert Satcher, and Stephanie Wilson – have previously visited the ISS on resupply missions, Epps would have been the first of her ethnicity to serve aboard the space station’s resident crew.

News of Epps appointment as a US astronaut set to travel to the space station made waves online, with many outlets excited about this step towards greater racial representation in the ranks of NASA’s elite astronauts. Back when the story of her appointment first broke in late 2017, Woman’s Day magazine reported that “after almost a decade of training in robotics and the Russian language—so that she can communicate with the cosmonauts on her mission—she will become the first African-American to live and work long-term at the International Space Station.”

After her appointment to the mission, Epps recognized what her status as a US astronaut heading to the space station meant for young woman with dreams of heading to space and accomplishing great things. “Jeanette knows that little girls, including her nieces, ages 5 and 6, are watching. [She would’ve had] with her a few of their drawings, a reminder of a world where girls never have to think the word ‘impossible at all. ‘I want little girls to believe in infinite possibilities,’ says Jeanette. ‘I want them to see me and think, Oh, that’s just what women do.’”

She was scheduled to fly to the space station about the Russian Soyuz flight, the way we ferry a US astronaut to outer space at this point in time, although NASA is currently working with Boeing and SpaceX to reduce the country’s reliance on Russian infrastructure.

As mentioned above, there’s currently no word on why she was removed, but the BBC reports that NASA did reiterate that she’s eligible for future missions – which makes the removal more confusing than it does explain why exactly it happened.

“Serena Aunon-Chancellor, who previously was assigned to Expedition 58/59, has been reassigned to the Expedition 56/57 crew, launching in June,” NASA announced. “She is taking the place of astronaut Jeanette Epps, who will return to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to assume duties in the Astronaut Office and be considered for assignment to future missions.”

The first African-American US astronaut to potentially serve as part of the resident crew on the International Space Station was expected to launch to the outpost from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, and would be traveling alongside German European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst as well as the flight’s commander, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Propokev.

Jeanette Epps’ Background

Jeanette Epps, a US astronaut born in Syracuse, has her doctorate in aerospace engineering, which she completed in 2000. After the completion of her PhD, she spent two years working in a laboratory before being recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Following her recruitment, Epps worked as a technical intelligence officer for seven years before she was admitted to the very selective NASA US astronaut class in 2009. During her time at the CIA, she made several deployments to Iraq.

Serena Auñón-Chancellor, Jeanette Epps’ replacement, is another US astronaut with impressive qualifications. As a medical doctor from Fort Collins, Colorado, Dr. Auñón-Chancellor has spent more than nine months in Russia supporting medical operations for crew members aboard the space station.

Currently, US astronaut Jeanette Epps has been reassigned to serve as a backup to Norishige Kanai, an astronaut with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). During a press conference regarding the reassignment, Kanai addressed Epps, stating that “We together went through all trainings and examinations and all of the requirements. I am pretty sure your time will come pretty, pretty soon.”

While this is no doubt a setback for Epps, she remains ready and waiting to become the first African-American US Astronaut to serve aboard the ISS crew. We’ll have to wait and see when she gets her chance to once again make space history.