NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps, who had been selected to become the first African American crew member to live on board the International Space Station, was unexpectedly pulled from her June flight mission.
Epps, who had begun training for her assignment aboard Expedition 56-57, will return to Johnson Space Center in Houston. NASA announced that Serena Auñón-Chancellor, a fellow member of Epps’s astronaut class, would take Epps’s place. Auñón-Chancellor has a medical degree and previously served as a surgeon and managed medical operations for a range of NASA missions.
Epps holds a PhD in aerospace engineering and was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009 after working for the CIA for seven years. NASA did not give an explanation for the crew change. However, Epps’s brother blamed racism at the space agency, stating, “My sister Dr. Jeannette Epps has been fighting against oppressive racism and misogynists at NASA for a while, and now they are holding her back by allowing a Caucasian astronaut to take her place!”
In a response to a request for more information, Johnson Space Center spokeswoman Brandi Dean said, “A number of factors are considered when making flight assignments. However, these decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn’t provide information.”
NASA does not usually say why crews are reassigned, unless there is a medical reason. Epps said that she did not have a medical condition or family problem that would have prevented her from participating in the mission and that her overseas training in Russia and Kazakhstan had been successful.
Fourteen African American astronauts have flown in space, and several have visited the space station. In 2008, astronaut Leland Melvin was part of the space shuttle crew that delivered the Columbus science laboratory to the space station.