NASA is under fire and facing allegations of racism after the organization decided to pull 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.
“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 MoveOn.org 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.
Epps in an email to the Washington Post 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.
We can’t say for certain if racism is at play here, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it was.