NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps was supposed to be in space right now, as the first African-American crew member living on the International Space Station. But instead she’s on the ground doing all of the things astronauts do when they’re not in space—training, monitoring programs, working as a capcom in Mission Control, and more.
Since being pulled from her flight in January, a mission that launched about two weeks ago for a six-month tour on the space station, Epps has remained quiet in public. NASA did not specify the reasons for her removal from Expedition 56 to the space station, saying only that, “These decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn’t provide information.”
However, Epps did finally speak publicly this week, appearing at the Tech Open Air technology festival in Berlin on June 21, where she was interviewed by journalist Megan Gannon. The website CollectSPACE provided a transcript of the discussion.
“I can’t speculate”
Asked why she was taken off the Expedition 56 flight, Epps said she could not go into great detail. “I can’t speculate in this forum why that was done, but it was a decision of my management and it is something that we’re going to try to work through,” she said. However, Epps noted that she passed all of her NASA training, her Russian training, as well as exams for operating European and Japanese modules on the space station.
“Other people had been removed because of a medical thing, an accident,” she said. “One person broke a hip and had to be removed from flight, of course. But I didn’t have any medical conditions or anything like that. And I didn’t have any family issues at all, either.”
There are ongoing investigations into the situation of Epps, who was selected to become an astronaut in 2009. What she does not explicitly state, but which is true, is that NASA’s Johnson Space Center was responsible for selecting her as an astronaut, training her, and then decided she was competent to fly as an astronaut by assigning her to a mission. At some point after all of this, flight operations leaders decided that she should not fly. Epps said she expects to get some kind of closure from these investigations by the end of the summer.
From our independent reporting, we feel pretty confident that this was not a racial situation, nor something set down from NASA’s administration or the White House. Rather, it was an internal decision taken at Johnson Space Center. Epps feels wronged, but for now she is playing the role of a loyal soldier in hopes of flying again.
Business as usual
To that end, Epps said she is going about her business as usual.
“I’m back in the corps now, I am working on the NASA Orion program, which is really the Space Launch System, which is a mission to go back to the Moon to build a lunar orbital platform called the Gateway, and to basically get astronauts back to the moon and develop technologies there that would help take us to Mars,” she said. “I’m still flying the T-38, I’m still capcom’ing in Mission Control, and so I am just back in the office doing the same things that I was doing for the eight years I was waiting for a mission.”
As for that long wait, which culminated in a coveted flight assignment, only to be taken away again, Epps admitted, “It is something that I live with every day.”