I seriously doubt racism played a role. If that was the case, why bother recruiting a Black candidate in the first place? Just because a Black astronaut was replaced with a White astronaut doesn’t mean racism is the cause. NASA spent more than a pretty penny training and preparing Jeanette Epps to become an astronaut, and even more for this specific mission. I am sure there is more to this story, so let’s explore it.
They could have saved a lot of money and resources by not including her at all, or even making her the standby crewmember to begin with. I don’t expect an answer to why she was replaced, not anytime soon. Maybe she had problems performing a specific task during simulations that she couldn’t overcome. Maybe there was a medical development. Or maybe a change in mission objectives required a different kind of specialist to be an ISS resident for that timeframe. All valid reasons we’ve seen in play before. There is always more to the story.
— Univ. of Maryland (@UofMaryland) July 19, 2017
Why am I hesitant to call NASA racist? Guion Bluford. Ronald McNair. Frederick D. Gregory. Charles Bolden. Mae Jemison. Bernard A. Harris Jr. Winston E. Scott. Robert Curbeam. Michael P. Anderson. Stephanie Wilson. Joan Higginbotham. Alvin Drew. Leland D. Melvin. Robert Satcher. Astronauts who have made the history books with successful space flight operations under their belts. They just happen to also be Black.
In context, she’s in a much smaller group of astronauts who have either never went into space, or has yet to: Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. Livingston L. Holder, Jr. Michael E. Belt. Yvonne Cagle. Victor J. Glover. Jessica Watkins. Some have died during training, some have retired, some, like Jeanette, are still waiting for their chance to shine.
Racism does exist
Being Black can be hard. Being a Black astronaut is even harder. And considering the story of the very first Black astronaut candidate, Edward Joseph (Ed) Dwight Jr., the overwhelming challenges of becoming a Black astronaut should not be treated lightly. We have to appreciate that somehow, despite the setbacks and obstacles, NASA has still managed to put more Black astronauts into orbit than it grounded. It’s impressive to see so many names on the list. It’s not easy for anyone to become an astronaut. Ask Clayton Anderson, who determinedly applied with NASA fifteen times before being selected for candidacy. Ask Jeanette Epps, who’s been on the active list since 2009 and JUST NOW getting the (missed) opportunity for spaceflight. Even if she never straps in, she is still a member of a very select few (320) bonafide astronauts who stood out from a pull of tens of thousands of rejected applicants. Even if this incident was battle over race, she had already won the war the moment she finished her candidacy training.
Her Replacement Wasn’t White
She is an accomplished research engineer at Ford and intelligence officer for the CIA, before she even applied and accepted for astronaut candidacy the first time around. She is being replaced by an equally-accomplished medical officer, Cuban American Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor, NASA’s resident flight surgeon for the ISS program. My guess is that something happened recently with the current ISS crew that the higher-ups needed to send up the Doc instead of lab engineer. NASA’s official stance is that it is a personnel matter, so we really shouldn’t jump to any baseless conclusions. Both Epps and Auñón-Chancellor are very capable members, as we’ve seen them both excel as aquanauts when they participated in NEEMO before being assigned to the ISS lineup.
It’s embarrassing that people are trying to make this about race. It was a Latino female who replaced a Black female, both who beat out literally over 10,000 White male applicants for their slots back in 2009. As did the seven White candidates (one female) who were also in the same class. There is no room for prejudice in NASA.
That’s why we are the most successful space program on the planet. No one else could put man on the moon. Mars is a graveyard of disasters, except for us, who so far, have a more-than-perfect record (Spirit was only supposed to last 11 months, it’s going on a decade – it’s had three Black program directors in its lifetime). We are the only nation with not just one, but two spacecraft that are reaching interstellar space for the first time ever, and no one else is even got the balls to try.
I’m crossing my fingers for Jeanette Epps to get another break soon. Just like I cross my fingers for other candidates in the pipeline. NASA has proven time and again that race, gender, nationality is far secondary to the primary requirement of being able to do a very difficult job under very difficult circumstances. Diversity isn’t a mandate for political correctness: it’s a mandate to make sure that we have the absolute best people to do the absolute best jobs possible, without limitation. Which sets the bar for what diversity SHOULD be like in American society.
The brother of NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps, who was scheduled to be the first African-American crew member on the International Space Station (ISS), claims racism is the reason his sister was pulled from the mission.