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African-American NASA Astronaut Says She Isn't Sure Why Her Space Mission Was Canceled

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Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

Robert Markowitz/NASA

An African-American NASA astronaut who was pulled from her flight to space just months before launch says she doesn’t know why her flight was canceled.

Jeanette Epps had been due to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) for a six-month stay on Expedition 56, which launched on June 6, 2018. In January this year, however, she was removed from the flight and replaced by American Serena Auñón-Chancellor, who originally was going to fly in November 2018.

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Epps, who would have been the first African-American to join the crew on the ISS, has now spoken about the incident, saying she didn’t know why she was removed.

At the Tech Open Air technology festival in Berlin on June 21, speaking to journalist Megan Gannon, Epps said that she “can't speculate in this forum why that was done, but it was a decision of my management and it is something that we're going to try to work through.”

She had passed all of her training, which means that can’t have been the reason. And she doesn’t appear to have had any medical issues.

“Other people had been removed because of a medical thing, an accident,” she said. “One person broke a hip and had to be removed from flight, of course. But I didn't have any medical conditions or anything like that. And I didn't have any family issues at all, either.”

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This has obviously led to questions about why she was dropped. Shortly after the incident, her brother Henry Epps had blamed “oppressive racism and misogynist [sic] in NASA,” an idea that remains very controversial.

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In her interview Jeanette Epps stayed on the fence regarding this issue, noting that there was “no time to really be concerned about sexism and racism and things like that, because we have to perform.”

She added: “And if [it] comes into play, then you're hindering the mission and you're hindering the performance. So whether or not it is a factor, I can't speculate what people are thinking doing [sic] into this forum unless I have a little bit more information.”

Other African-Americans have flown to space before, with the last being Robert Satcher in 2009. None have been part of the crew on the ISS before though; Epps would have been the first.

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Epps remains a NASA astronaut for now, with the chance of flying again in future. But there is still likely to be intense interest around the fact she was dropped from this mission, and what the reason behind this possibly could have been.


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