NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps will launch on the first operational mission of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station, joining her fellow NASA crew members Sunita “Suni” Williams and Josh Cassada, the space agency revealed this week.
Two years ago, Epps was set to launch on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, making history as the first Black astronaut to live on the orbiting laboratory but for unknown reasons she was pulled from the launch by NASA. The space agency did not disclose why the crew change was made. In a 2018 interview for a technology conference, Epps said “it was a decision of my management and is something that we are going to try and continue to work through.”
Epps will make it to the station 200 miles above Earth but on a different ride and launching from her home country.
Boeing is still working to certify its astronaut capsule to fly humans as part of NASA Commercial Crew Program. In December the CST-100 Starliner launched on an uncrewed test flight to the ISS but after several issues was forced to return to Earth 48 hours later without reaching the space station. Boeing plans to repeat that test run without astronauts before launching humans, possibly next year.
Epps will be part of the second astronaut flight for Starliner. It will mark her first spaceflight and the first for Cassada as well. Williams is a veteran astronaut who flew on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and during the Space Shuttle Program. It will mark Williams’ third journey into space.
Preparing for her previously scheduled first spaceflight, Epps said she spent extensive time in Houston, Germany, Russia and Japan training. Now Epps is preparing to fly on Starliner. Her fellow astronauts Cassada and Williams shared videos welcoming her to the Starliner crew.
Outside of being a NASA astronaut, Epps has an impressive background. She is a former CIA intelligence officer, who served on a mission overseas in Iraq.
Epps has a master’s degree in science, as well as a doctorate in aerospace engineering, both from the University of Maryland, according to NASA.
She was in the CIA for seven years prior to joining the 2009 astronaut class.
While NASA has made improvements in gender diversity through the years -- half of the astronaut classes have been women since 2013 --there are still few Black astronauts and none that have flown on long-duration missions to the ISS.
NASA astronaut Victor Glover will make history later this year when he launches with SpaceX on the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the space station. Glover, along with his fellow NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Mike Hopkins along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi will launch in late October from Kennedy Space Center.
Out of more than 200 astronauts to reside on the ISS during its more than 20 years in orbit, Epps will become the first Black woman to become a space station crew member.