NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps, who was slated to become the first black crew member to live on board the International Space Station, was unexpectedly pulled from her June flight.
In a brief news release Thursday, NASA announced that Serena Auñón-Chancellor, a fellow member of Epps’s astronaut class who was scheduled to launch later in the year, would be bumped up to take Epps’s place. Epps, who had already started training for her role on Expedition 56-57, will return to Johnson Space Center in Houston, where she will be a candidate for future crews.
NASA did not give an explanation for the crew change. But Epps’s brother blamed racism at the space agency.
“My sister Dr. Jeannette Epps has been fighting against oppressive racism and misogynist in NASA and now they are holding her back and allowing a Caucasian Astronaut to take her place!” Henry Epps wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. (The post has since been removed.) He linked to a MoveOn.org petition asking NASA to reinstate Epps.
In an email, Epps said she could not comment on her brother’s post or the reason for the crew change and clarified that neither she nor anyone in her family created the petition.
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.
NASA likewise declined to comment about Henry Epps’s post but provided a statement saying, “Diversity and inclusion are integral to mission success at NASA and we have a diverse astronaut corps reflective of that approach.”
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Sarah Kaplan