NASA pulls first black crew member from ISS mission

NASA is facing allegations of racism in the wake of its decision to bump Astronaut Jeanette Epps, who was slated to become the first black crew member on the International Space Station, from its upcoming expedition.

Rumors surrounding her prompt removal have swirled since NASA on Thursday announced Epps would be replaced on the flight by Serena Auñón-Chancellor, a member of Epps’ astronaut class slated to launch later this year, according a news release.

Henry Epps, in a now-deleted Facebook post, alleged racism was at the root of his sister getting pulled off Expedition 56-57.

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IN SPACE - OCTOBER 7: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this handout photo provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst takes a photo during his spacewalk, whilst aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on October 7, 2014 in Space. Gerst returned to earth on November 10, 2014 after spending six months on the International Space Station completing an extensive scientific programme, known as the 'Blue Dot' mission (after astronomer Carl Sagan's description of Earth, as seen on a photograph taken by the Voyager probe from six billion kilometres away). (Photo by Alexander Gerst / ESA via Getty Images)
ZHEZKAZGAN, KAZAKHSTAN - MARCH 12: (Alternate crop of #465931716) In this handout provided by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft is seen as it lands with Expedition 42 commander Barry Wilmore of NASA, Alexander Samokutyaev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Elena Serova of Roscosmos March 12, 2015 near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan. NASA astronaut Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Samokutyaev and Serova are returning after nearly six months onboard the International Space Station where they served as members of the Expedition 41 and 42 crews. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
STAR CITY, RUSSIA - MARCH 5: In this handout from the In this handout from National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA, (L to R) NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly is seen inside a Soyuz simulator at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) March 5, 2015 in Star City, Russia. The three are preparing for launch to the International Space Station (ISS) in the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 28, 2015. As the one-year crew, Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-18M in March 2016. (Photo by /Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
WALLOPS ISLAND, VA - OCTOBER 28: In this handout provided by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard suffers a catastrophic anomaly moments after launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at NASA Wallops Flight Facility on October 28, 2014 on Wallops Island, Virginia. William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and Michael Suffredini, NASA's International Space Station Program Manager also participated in the press conference via phone. Cygnus was on its way to rendezvous with the space station. The Antares rocket lifted off to start its third resupply mission to the International Space Station, but suffered a catastrophic anomaly shortly after lift off at 6:22 p.m. EDT. (Photo by Joel Kowsky/NASA via Getty Images)

“My sister Dr. Jeanette 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!” he wrote on Facebook Friday, linking to a petition that demands NASA reinstate Epps.

Many of its signatories also question whether the move was racially motivated and demanded an explanation for the crew change.

“We’re not taking your racism anymore,” wrote Debra Woods Jenkins. “Reinstate Dr. Jeanette Epps as the Astronaut for this June’s mission immediately.”

NASA did not offer an explanation for Epps’ sudden removal from the crew and did not immediately return request for comment.

“Diversity and inclusion are integral to mission success at NASA and we have a diverse astronaut corps reflective of that approach,” the agency said in a statement to theWashington Post.

Epps in an email to the newspaper declined to comment on her brother’s Facebook post and the reason why she was pulled off the mission.

She also added neither she nor her brother made the petition requesting she be added back onto the crew.

Epps, a Syracuse native and a 2000 graduate of the University of Maryland’s aerospace engineering doctorate program, noted she did not have a medical condition or personal issue that would prevent her from fulfilling her duties.

After seven years of work with the CIA, Epps in 2009 was selected to be a NASA astronaut. She’d already completed much of her training for the June mission when it was announced she would no longer be on the flight.

“As a steward, I want to do well with this honor,” Epps told The Cut after she was announced a crew member. “I want to make sure that young people know that this didn’t happen overnight.”

Fourteen African-American astronauts have flown in space, but Epps would have been the first to live long-term at the station.

Epps’ replacement is also slated to make history on the summer expedition.

Auñón-Chancellor, who has previously served as a surgeon and managed medical operations for several NASA missions, is slated to become the first Hispanic woman to live on the space station.

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