Astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann’s wait to launch into space is almost over. On Oct. 3, Mann will lead NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission and become the first Native American woman to go to space.
“It’s been a long journey, but it’s been so well worth it,” Mann told Reuters during a recent interview.
Mann, who got the news about her role on the SpaceX Crew-5 mission back in 2018, has been a NASA astronaut since June 2013, according to her official NASA biography. She is a Colonel in the Marine Corps, served as a test pilot in the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet, and deployed twice on aircraft carriers to support combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mann also has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University.
The first Native American to go into space was John Herrington, who was part of NASA’s 16th space shuttle mission on the Endeavor from Nov. 23-Dec. 7, 2002.
Mann will serve as the commander of the mission and will join pilot Josh Cassada and mission specialists Anna Kikina and Koichi Wakata aboard the SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft.
The astronauts will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and eventually dock with the International Space Station. Once there, the SpaceX Crew-5 crew will take over operations of the ISS from the current Crew-4, who have been orbiting in space since April 27, according to NASA. The crew will remain in the space station for six months to study the effects of prolonged daily living beyond planet Earth.
A native of California, Mann is an enrolled member of the Wailacki, which is part of the larger group of Round Valley Indian Tribes in northern California.
She told Native News Online that she hopes her role in NASA and on this upcoming mission can inspire Native American youth to dream big.
“So hopefully they feel empowered to be proactive in pursuing their dreams,” she said in the interview. “No matter what they are. And they realize that regardless of their race, their gender, or their religion, these opportunities are there for the taking and that they can see the diversity that we have, specifically in the astronaut corps and on my mission, and hopefully, they will look towards us and follow on our mission.”