Astronaut Jeanette Epps, was waiting with mixed anticipation and pride for this coming June when she was scheduled to work as a flight engineer, becoming the first African American crew member on the International Space Station.
However, her excitement turned to confusion last week when NASA announced that Epps would no longer be apart of June's mission.
After doing a bit of digging, wow, NASA is going to have some difficult questions to answer about Jeanette Epps.— Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) January 19, 2018
Offering little to no explanation for their decision, NASA released a statement regarding the removal of Epps and her replacement.
"Serena Auñón-Chancellor, who previously was assigned to Expedition 58/59, has been reassigned to the Expedition 56/57 crew, launching in June," the statement reads. "She is taking the place of astronaut Jeanette Epps, who will return to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to assume duties in the Astronaut Office and be considered for assignment to future missions."
Epps' brother, Henry Epps, was frustrated with the statement and the absence of a valid explanation for her removal. In a since deleted Facebook post, Epps claims that racism played a role in his sister's removal.
"My sister Dr. Jeannette Epps has been fighting against oppressive racism and misogyny in NASA and now they are holding her back and allowing a Caucasian Astronaut to take her place," his post stated. "My sister deserves a chance just like her white peers! This administration's 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 yeas in one year? No more.. We cannot continue to tolerate what is going on in America but we must stand together and stand behind our people and our nation!"
Everyone help get my Aunt Dr. Jeanette Epps back on her mission for June 2018 by signing this petiton. https://t.co/VbHKTadykG— Hope Hardy (@ms_prettyandshy) January 21, 2018
Epps also provided a link to a MoveOn.org petition that highlights his sister's resume and accomplishments while asking for NASA to reinstate his sister back on the June mission. The petition has over 2,000 signatures.
No one yet knows what happened, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if "Cheeto" told NASA he didn't want "a black" on the ISS. #jeanetteepps— Sean Cory (@ActorSeanCory) January 19, 2018
Neither Epps nor NASA have acknowledged her brother's claims of racism and unfair treatment though NASA has stated, "Diversity and inclusion are integral to mission success at NASA and we have a diverse astronaut corps reflective of the approach."
Epps has stepped forward to say that health or family issues were not behind her removal from the mission. And while it does seem odd that she would be removed without an obvious or at least decent explanation, taking away her chance to make history is much more unfortunate.
Yet Epps' brother's claim that NASA replaced her with a white astronaut is actually incorrect, as her replacement, Auñón-Chancellor, will also be making history as she will be the first Hispanic woman to live on the space station, which is truly something to celebrate.
Banner / thumbnail : Reuters, Carlos Barria