NASA and SpaceX will send the first Native American woman into orbit

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SpaceX and NASA on Wednesday launched a crew of astronauts from around the world for a trip to the International Space Station.

The role of the former US Marine Corps pilot can be considered the quarterback of the crew.

Mann’s historic journey – and his first trip to space since joining NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013 – is set to kick off at 12 p.m. ET on Wednesday, when Mann and his three crewmates will board their spacecraft atop a 230-foot (70-meter-tall) SpaceX rocket set to lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They will travel to the International Space Station for a five-month stay, joining a long list of astronauts to serve as full-time staff aboard the orbiting laboratory, which has hosted humans for nearly 22 years.

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

“It will be a special part of my childhood, my community and my family,” Mann told reporters at a press conference on Saturday, just after arriving by plane at the launch site.

His teammates will also represent a wide range of cultural backgrounds. She will fly alongside fellow NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, a native of Minnesota; Koichi Wakata of the Japanese space agency, called JAXA, or Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; and Anna Kikina, a Roscomos cosmonaut who joined this mission as part of a US-Russian rideshare deal.

“I take great pride in representing Native Americans and my heritage,” Mann said. “I think it’s important to celebrate our diversity and realize how important it is to collaborate and come together, the incredible accomplishments we can have.”

Mann grew up in northern California and is a registered member of the Wailacki Tribe of the Round Valley Reservation, which includes several native tribes who were forced to join the same post-colonial reservation in the mid-1800s.

“A lot of my extended family still lives in that area,” Mann told Indian Country Today in August. “We actually got together a few weeks ago for a family reunion. So it’s very important, I think, that we continue to make those connections. »

A colonel in the Marine Corps, Mann began a military career as a second lieutenant in 1999, according to the NASA website. Two years later, she began flight training and served two deployments, supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to NASA. She then earned a test pilot spot, flying F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet aircraft.

Mann said she didn’t realize until later in her life that she wanted to be an astronaut – and that such a role was doable.

“I was in my twenties,” she told reporters in August. “I realized that being an astronaut was not just something that was a possible dream, but actually something that is completely achievable. I think as a young girl, I just didn’t realize that 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 before being assigned to a mission. And after being slotted into her role on Crew-5, Mann spent 18 months in intensive training, including practicing underwater spacewalks and studying Russian to better communicate with her cosmonaut counterparts.

READ MORE: The big numbers that make the Artemis I mission a monumental feat

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

In his role as commander, Mann will be responsible for ensuring the spacecraft is on track from launch to docking with the ISS and again when it returns home with the four crew-member astronauts. 5 next year. Never before has a woman taken on the role of commander on a SpaceX mission, although a few women held the position during the Space Shuttle program, which NASA retired in 2011.

In the years after NASA was founded in the mid-20th century, astronauts were all white men, even during the final days of the space agency’s famed Apollo program. That only changed when Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983, and she was followed soon after by the first black person in space, Guion Bluford.

READ MORE: Meet the Color Space Pioneers Who Made Others Dream

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

The Artemis program hasn’t started yet, as NASA is still working to get its mega lunar rocket off the ground. But Mann was selected as one of 18 astronauts who could be assigned to the program’s first moon landing mission.

Artemis’ diverse group of astronauts have taken turns traveling to the ISS, where they’re conducting science experiments and maintaining the aging space station, as well as preparing for a possible trip to the ISS. deep space later this decade.

“What we’re going to do in low Earth orbit is a stepping stone to achieving those deep space exploration goals,” Mann said, using the term “low Earth orbit” to refer to the area of ​​space where the ‘ISS orbit. . “We’re going to get a ton of experience flying in low Earth orbit, and any of us could be assigned to an Artemis mission in the future. And hopefully we’ll walk on the moon together one day. . ”

On Saturday, Mann also commented on the importance of having astronauts with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds.

“We hope it inspires young children around the world who come from diverse and different backgrounds,” she said. “In fact, I hope it also inspires adults to follow your dreams and realize that any limitations we may have had in the past are starting to be broken.”

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