NASA will be sending an African American astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time ever in 2018.
Jeanette Epps, a former CIA technical intelligence officer, was the astronaut chosen to go to the station alongside veteran astronaut Andrew Feustel in May of next year. She will live aboard the ISS for six months.
Epps has surely earned the honor, having been a part of NASA’s 20th astronaut class back in 2009 (she was one of 14 members of the class), as well as having a PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. Although African American astronauts have been a part of a number of space shuttle missions, Epps is the first one to be a part of the ISS.
“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.”
In an interview with the Lenny Letter last year, Epps elaborated on what her role would be aboard the ISS.
“I’ll be a flight engineer. We do all the research prescribed for that mission, but also all the maintenance that’s onboard. The space station is getting very old, and so it requires more and more maintenance. Even that work is research though, partly because the ISS is the biggest flying experiment of all time,” Epps said. “We’re trying to keep that experiment going. My fellow flight engineer Alex Gerst and I will be experiments as well — they’ll take data on our daily food intake, blood, things like that.”
She also stated how excited she is for the trip, saying “It’s unreal. Even now that it’s closer, I’m like, ‘I won’t believe it until I’m there.'”