For the first time in NASA's 58 year history, a Black crew member will be sent on a mission to the International Space Station. Dr. Jeanette J. Epps was selected as a member of the 2009 astronaut class, NASA's 20th, which was comprised of only 14 members. Under the command of veteran Andrew Feustel, the two will join the ISS team in 2018.
For Dr. Epps, this is the realization of a dream long held since she was a little 9-year old girl growing up in Syracuse, New York. Epps vividly recalls the day back in 1980 when her brother took notice of her grades and remarked that she and her twin sister could be aerospace engineers, or even astronauts. It was at that moment Epps knew she would one day join the ranks of an exclusive team of scientists and engineers whose mission is to study and explore the universe.
Becoming an astronaut is no easy feat. Epps started her journey as a 1988 graduate of Thomas J. Corcoran High School in New York. She earned a B.S. degree in Physics at Le Moyne College in 1992. From there, Epps enrolled at the University of Maryland where she earned both a Master of Science (1994) and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Aerospace Engineering (2000).
Her work experience includes a position at Anheuser Busch that she obtained through a program called Inroads while at LeMoyne College. Epps had a two-year stint at Ford Motor Company where she earned both a provisional patent and a U.S. Patent for technology related to automobile safety and collision. She then spent over seven years as a CIA Technical Intelligence Officer from 2002 until 2009.
In 2008, Epps applied to NASA's program and was accepted in 2009. During her training, Epps learned Russian, conducted research, and participated in many expeditions. In 2014, she had the honor of participating in NEEMO 18 (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation), a 9-day underwater expedition which serves as a testing and training ground for future space exploration. Her preparations also include language immersion in Moscow, geologic studies in Hawaii and robotics training, spacewalk training (EVA). Dr. Epps has even served as lead CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator) in mission control.
The world will be watching when Dr. Jeanette Epps takes flight next year. She is certainly passionate about her work and qualified for the job. Epps is living proof that the sky is the limit. Whether or not she intends it, there will likely be many more 9-year old Black girls embarking on a similar path once they hear this story. This is a history-making moment that could spark a greater interest in math and science for girls. Her example is one that makes us all proud. Salute!