Astronaut Jeanette Epps was to be in space as a flight engineer this year. However, as surprising as it looked she was removed from the assignment about which she spoke for the first time at the Annual Tech Open Air festival on June 21.
Epps, an African-American, is an aerospace engineer and a former CIA analyst who joined the astronaut corps back in 2009. As she explained, she was assigned to be the flight engineer for Expedition 56 and 57 of the International Space Station (ISS). She would have been making history by being the first African-American person to live on ISS, but as it stands, it couldn’t be possible.
Serena Auñón-Chancellor, a fellow astronaut, replaced Epps in January who launched inside a Russian Soyuz capsule on June 6.
Though few astronauts had been removed from flight assignments in the past due to family or health issues, Epps did not seem to have any such problem. In addition to that, she had successfully passed her exams and training to be able to go to space, which made a strong case for her.”With all of the training I had done and completed in Houston, Russia, Germany, Japan—everything was completed,” Epps said.
She showed concern regarding all her work and effort going to waste if she is not appointed for any other space mission soon. Considering she had built excellent working relationships with her then Russian colleagues, she said it couldn’t be them who advocated for her removal. Moreover, Epps noted that her Russian colleagues also resisted her removal since they had been training together for at least a year then, and went through all the final exams.
Though this may not be entirely true, there are claims that sexism or racism might have played a part in replacement of Epps. If this is the case, she said that it would be “hindering the mission” but didn’t wholly support the argument of racism or sexism.
After all these episodes, Epps said she started back in Houston, working on NASA’s Orion program and serving as CAPCOM, the communicator between astronauts in space and the flight controllers in Mission Control.
Epps showed gratitude to all the former astronauts she had worked with and her trainers who supported her after the happenings and helped her decide a way forward. “I was pleased that I found out that I had more friends than I thought.”