Jeanette J. Epps is set to soar to historic heights as the first Black astronaut, male or female, to crew the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA announced last week that Epps, 46, has been assigned to her first spaceflight scheduled to launch in May 2018.She will join veteran astronaut Andrew Feustel as a flight engineer on Expedition 56 and remain on board for Expedition 57.
“Each space station crew brings something different to the table, and Drew and Jeanette both have a lot to offer,” Chris Cassidy, chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement. “The space station will benefit from having them on board.”
NASA has previously sent 14 Black astronauts into space, with several visiting the ISS for technical missions and for resupply, of which three were women: Joan E. Higginbotham; Mae C. Jemison, M.D. and Stephanie D. Wilson. But none have stayed on the station long term. Epps will be the first.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1992 at LeMoyne College in her hometown of Syracuse, New York. Epps went on to complete a master’s of science in 1994 and a doctorate in 2000 in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland.
While earning her doctorate, she was a NASA Graduate Student Researchers Project fellow, authoring several journal and conference articles on her research. After completing graduate school, Epps went on to work in a research laboratory for more than two years, co-authoring several patents, before being recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). She spent seven years as a CIA technical intelligence officer before being selected as a member of the 2009 astronaut class.
As a candidate, Epps received training in Russian language, spacewalking, geology and robotics, as well as T-38 jet training and National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) training.
After graduating she participated in a NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation, geologic studies in Hawaii and language immersion in Moscow. Epps also continued training in robotics and T-38.
Much like a lesson of the film, never underestimate the value of African American talent.
NASA’s announcement came the same week as the wide-release debut of “Hidden Figures.” The film is based on the true story of a team of African American women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who provided NASA with important mathematical data at the start of the Cold War.The women computed trajectories needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions, including John Glenn’s famous 1962 voyage.
Epps offers advice to young women pursuing a career in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields in the video “NASA Modern Figure.”
“Anything that is going to be hard, you don’t know at first,” she says. “If you stay the course, you put the time and effort in, it will become seamless eventually.”