NASA, SpaceX to send first Native American woman into orbit

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The first American woman to travel to Earth’s orbit will take flight this week in the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. Nicole Aunapu Mann will serve as NASA astronaut mission commander.

The former US Marine Corps pilot’s role can be seen as the quarterback of the crew.

Mann’s historic journey — and his first trip to space since joining NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013 — will begin Wednesday at 12:00 p.m. ET, when Mann and his three crew members will ride in their spacecraft at an altitude of 230 feet (70). -meter high) The SpaceX rocket will take off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They will head to the International Space Station for a five-month stay, joining a long list of astronauts to serve as full-time staff at the laboratory that has hosted humans for nearly 22 years.

On his journey, Mann will take a few souvenirs with him: his wedding rings, a surprise gift for his family, and a dream catcher his mother gave him.

“That’s going to be a special part of my childhood and my community and my family,” Mann told reporters at a news conference Saturday shortly after arriving at the launch site.

Its team members will also represent a wide range of cultural backgrounds. He will fly with NASA astronaut Josh Cassada of Minnesota; Koichi Wakata of the Japanese space agency, called JAXA, or the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; and Anna Kikina, a Roscomos cosmonaut, joined the mission as part of a US-Russian ride-sharing agreement.

“I’m very proud to represent Native Americans and my heritage,” Mann said. “I think it’s important to celebrate our diversity and also how important it is to collaborate and when we come together, the incredible achievements we can have.”

Mann grew up in Northern California and is a member of the Wailacki tribe on the Round Valley reservation, which includes several indigenous tribes who were forced onto the same post-colonial reservation in the mid-1800s.

“A lot of my extended family still lives in the area,” Mann told Indian Country Today in August. “Actually, we met a couple of weeks ago for a family reunion. Therefore, it is very important, in my opinion, to continue to create these links.’

A Marine Corps colonel, Mann began his military career in 1999 as a second lieutenant, according to NASA’s website. Two years later, it began training flights and went on to serve two deployments in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to NASA. He then earned a spot as a test pilot, flying the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet aircraft.

Mann said he later realized he wanted to be an astronaut, and that the role was doable.

“I was about 20 years old,” he told reporters in August. “I realized that being an astronaut was not only something that was a possible dream, but something that was quite achievable. In my opinion, when I was a young girl, I did not realize that this was an opportunity and a possibility”.

NASA astronaut Nicole A. Mann speaks during a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on October 1.

After being selected for NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013, Mann waited years to be assigned to a mission. And after entering his role on Crew-5, Mann spent 18 months in intensive training, practicing underwater spacewalks and learning Russian to better communicate with his fellow cosmonauts.

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Mann’s mission, dubbed Crew-5, will be SpaceX’s sixth astronaut launch since 2020 in partnership with NASA, part of a broader effort to outsource human spaceflight and other ISS activities to the private sector.

As commander, Mann will be responsible for ensuring the spacecraft from launch to docking with the ISS and returning home next year with four astronauts, Crew-5. No woman has ever assumed the role of commander of a SpaceX mission, although a couple of women served in the role in the Space Shuttle Program when NASA retired in 2011.

20th In the early years of NASA’s founding in the mid-20th century, astronauts were mostly white men, even in the last days of the space agency’s famous Apollo program. That only changed when Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983, followed soon after by the first black person in space, Guion Bluford.

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Since then, NASA has worked to make its astronaut corps more diverse. The space agency’s new core human spaceflight program, called Artemis, aims to put the first woman and first person of color on the moon.

The Artemis program has yet to take off, as NASA is still working to get its mega moon rocket off the ground. But Mann was one of 18 astronauts who could be assigned to the program’s first moon landing mission.

Diverse teams of Artemis astronauts have been taking turns traveling to the ISS, where they conduct science experiments and maintain the aging space station, as well as prepare for a possible trip to deep space later this decade.

“What we’re going to do in low-Earth orbit is a step toward achieving those deep space exploration goals,” Mann said, using the term “low-Earth orbit” to refer to the area of ​​space that the ISS orbits. . “We will gain a lot of experience flying in low Earth orbit, and any of us can be assigned to an Artemis mission in the future. And that one day we will walk together on the moon. ”

On Saturday, Mann also commented on the importance of having astronauts of diverse experience and backgrounds.

“We hope it will inspire young children from all over the world who come from different backgrounds,” he said. “In fact, I hope that it also encourages adults to follow their dreams and realize that the boundaries we may have had in the past are beginning to break down.”