Black woman was slated to be on a historic space launch. NASA removed her with no explanation
Jeanette Epps was going to be the first Black crew member to fly to space with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and live at the International Space Station, for a five-month expedition. Then she was removed and replaced by her crew backup, Serena Auñón-Chancellor, in January 2018. Months later, Epps still doesn’t know why she replaced.
Epps was chosen by the space agency in 2009 to train and become an astronaut. NASA announced that Epps and two other crew members would board and launch on Russia’s Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft. Only six Black astronauts have ever the station—Robert Curbeam, Leland Melvin, Robert Satcher, Stephanie Wilson, Alvin Drew, and Joan Higginbotham—on assemble and supply duties. Jeanette Epps was slated to be the first to be an on-crew resident.
NASA would later announce that Epps would not be on the space mission and would instead “return to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to assume duties in the Astronaut Office and be considered for assignment to future missions.”
Epps says that while crew members have been taken off missions before, none “in the same fashion that this was done, partly because I was so close to launch.”
Epps spoke about her removal in an interview at the annual Tech Open Air festival on June 21st.
“I don’t know where the decision came from and how it was made, in detail or at what level,” she said. “I seriously do not believe it was the Russians (her partners), partly because I had been through the training with them and I was able to develop good working relationships with everyone there.”
She continues, “There were a lot of people who were really supportive — former astronauts and people like that — who reached out and were really helpful just talking to me, trying to figure out a way forward and what happened. I was very happy that I found out that I had more friends than I thought.”
The incident recalls another earlier this year, when a team of Black girls were winning high school competition for a trip to NASA, then NASA switched up the rules citing “attempts… made to corrupt the Public Choice voting.”