African-American ISS mission astronaut pulled out by NASA: Is racism to blame?
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African-American ISS mission astronaut pulled out by NASA: Is racism to blame?

Post the shutdown of the U.S. government, many organizations have been affected and NASA is no exception. However, the crucial missions such as ISS shall face no consequences of this shutdown as continue as per plan. Recently, a NASA based astronaut named Jeanette Epps was unexpectedly pulled out from the June flight on board the International Space Station. She was to become the first female of African ethnicity to be a crew member at ISS.

NASA confirmed that Epps shall be replaced by Serena Aunon –Chancellor who was a team member in the astronaut class. Epps had already started preparing and training for the mission 56-57 but shall now return back to the Johnson Space Center located in Houston. Here she will be a potential candidate for upcoming missions. As of now, NASA hasn’t provided a proper explanation for the sudden change in the crew to which Epps’s brother pointed that racism was the factor into play here. Henry Epps posted a status in his Facebook account on a Saturday which stated that his sister has been a constant victim of oppressive racism as well as chauvinism in the space center. Now, the officials are replacing her with another Caucasian astronaut. This post has however been removed. The same was linked with a petition on which asked the NASA officials to take Epps back on the mission.

In a brief email, Epps clarified that she cannot provide a comment on the Facebook post by her brother or any specific reason for a change of crew. However, she clarified that the petition wasn’t created by her or any of her family members. Epps further said that she wasn’t suffering from any kind of medical condition or any family issues that might have barred her from being a member of the crew. She even clarified that her training sessions that were held overseas in Kazakhstan and Russia were pretty successful. This gives NASA no particular reason to replace her with another fellow mate.

NASA declined from providing any statement related to Epps but they clarified that NASA believes in diversity which is highly important for the missions and that reflects in their vastly diverse scientists and astronauts. Crew change happening at the last minute isn’t a new thing for the space agency. During the Apollo 13 mission, Ken Mattingly, an astronaut was pulled out from the mission just a few days before as he was exposed to the disease named German measles. NASA mostly refrains from providing any explanations regarding the same for security or other private reasons.

After working for seven years at the CIA, Epps was selected as a part of space agency’s astronaut team in the year 2009. She holds Ph.D. in the field of aerospace engineering. During an interview session with New York Magazine after her selection, Epps said that she felt that this mission was a huge responsibility for her. In the entirety of the mission, about 14 astronauts of African-American ethnicity have gone to space while many have visited the ISS. However, Epps was to work on the ISS for a long-term, which would have been the first for an astronaut from African-American ethnicity.

The selection of Epps’s fellow astronaut Aunon-Chancellor shall also be a history-making event. She shall be tagged as the first-ever Hispanic woman to work onboard as well as live on ISS.