Did NASA Remove This Astronaut From an ISS Mission Because It's Racist?
Believe it or not, there has never been an African-American crew member aboard the International Space Station. That was until last summer, when NASA chose Dr. Jeanette Epps to go on its June 2018 mission. This meant that Dr. Epps would become the first black astronaut to board the space station.
That was until last week, when she was pulled off the team without explanation.
Dr. Epps was scheduled to be a flight engineer during Expedition 56 and remain onboard for Expedition 57, but that historic date has been deferred for the unforeseeable future as Dr. Epps was instead directed to return to the Astronaut Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. NASA said she would be considered for assignment to future missions.
Though NASA is known for being tightlipped about its personnel decisions, it did issue a sort of non-statement, only saying that "a number of factors are considered when making flight assignments; these decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn't provide information."
While the reason for Dr. Epps' dismissal remains unclear, her brother Henry claimed to know the reason. "My sister Dr. Jeannette Epps has been fighting against oppressive racism and misogynist in NASA and now they are holding her back and allowing a Caucasian Astronaut to take her place!" Henry Epps wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday evening, according to Newsweek.
"My sister deserves a chance just life [sic] her white peers! This administration policies and culture is reprehensible against their stance against women and minorities in this nation. We have lost all of the gains we gained over the past 40 years in one year?No more!" Henry Epps continued. "We cannot continue to tolerate what is going on in America but we must stand together and stand behind our people and out [sic] nation!"
As of now, a MoveOn.org petition calling for Dr. Epps to be reinstated on the mission has garnered over 800 signatures.
"AS TAX PAYERS, ANYTIME WE INQUIRE WHY SOMETHING IS OR IS NOT, WE ARE ENTITLED TO THE CORRECT AND THOROUGH ANSWER(S)..." wrote signee Mr. Stacey Harvin. "ANYTIME INFO IS UNDISCLOSED FOR NO APPARENT REASON, THEN IT USUALLY MEANS MISCHIEF IS TAKEN PLACE....I UNDERSTAND CONCEALING TOP SECRET INFO TO AVOID OUR ENEMIES, FOREIGN OR DOMESTIC, ACCESS, FOR THE SAKE OF OUR NATIONAL SECURITY, AND FOR THE SECURITY OF OUR CITIZENS AND THEIR FAMILIES, BUT THIS SEEMS LIKE A CLEAR CUT CASE OF DISINTEGRITY OF NASA...ONCE AGAIN...ITS A SHAME THAT WE HAVE TO KEEP FIGHTING THESE ISSUES IN THE 21ST CENTURY...."
Syracuse University Professor and a former NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe said the removal of Dr. Epps from the crew is likely temporary, however. "Crew changes aren't unusual and when they do happen, the reassigned astronauts almost always fly on a later mission," O'Keefe told NYUpstate.com. "The exceptions are very few and far between."
Pushed for further potential explanations, O'Keefe suggested that the lack of disclosure often means the astronaut has medical or health considerations that are protected for her privacy. It's also possible, he said, that her skill set no longer made her the best-suited astronaut for the mission."Dr. Epps is an engineer. The astronaut replacing her is a medical doctor.(It) could well be there are now more human factors research projects on the mission manifest than material science research."
NASA is stepping up its game considerably this year, including working on advanced tools that will facilitate manned missions to Mars and its moons, a powerful weather sattelite for tracking storms, and a new project that uses nuclear fission to power missions to Mars. If there's any justice in the universe, Dr. Epps will be included in one of the agency's many future breakthroughs still to come.