NASA is breaking new ground for astronauts. As Indian Country Today reports, the agency recently confirmed that Marine Corps Col. Nicole Aunapu Mann will be the first Native American woman to travel to space. The Wailacki tribe member will serve as the mission commander for the SpaceX-powered Crew-5 mission heading to the International Space Station as soon as September 29th. When she arrives, Mann will be ISS Expedition 68’s flight engineer during a six-month stay.
The Crew-5 mission will also ferry NASA’s Josh Cassada, Japan’s Koichi Wakata and Russia’s Anna Kikina to the ISS. Chickasaw Nation member John Herrington was the first Native American of any gender to visit space, flying aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2002.
Mann has a background well-suited to spaceflight. She started her career as a Navy aviator and has flown the F/A-18 Hornet while supporting missions operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. She also earned her master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford. NASA chose Mann as one of eight astronaut candidates in 2013. That group has since become influential, producing influential figures like Anne McClain, Jessica Meir and Crew Dragon pilot Victor Glover. Some of them, including Mann, have made NASA’s shortlist for the first crewed Artemis missions to the Moon.
For Mann, this first spaceflight isn’t just historic. In her interview with ICT, she saw the trip as smashing “barriers” for Native American children who didn’t think they could become astronauts. It won’t be surprising if more follow her before long.