Listen to Article
On October 5, 2022, NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann became the first Native American woman to launch into space. Mann is also the first woman to command a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The 45-year-old is a member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes.
The SpaceX Crew-5 mission team, which includes NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, Japan's Koichi Wakata, and Russia's Anna Kikina, arrived at the ISS on October 6, 2022. The astronauts will spend five months aboard the floating space laboratory and conduct over 200 new scientific studies. The experiments are geared to prepare for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and to benefit life on Earth.
Mann earned her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the US Naval Academy and a master's degree from Stanford University. The California native began her military career with the US Marine Corps as a second lieutenant in 1999 and was a naval aviator by 2002. Mann's illustrious military career includes 47 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US Marine colonel has also been a test pilot for the US Navy's fighter aircraft. She was elected for astronaut training by NASA in 2013.
Mann hopes her achievements will encourage other Native American kids to pursue their goals. "[I hope it] will inspire young Native American children to follow their dreams and realize that some of those barriers that are there or used to be there are being broken down," Mann told BBC. "Anytime we are able to do something that is a first, or wasn't done in the past, it's so important. They have these opportunities."
The accomplished astronaut may not be done breaking barriers. She is among the 18 astronauts selected for NASA's Artemis program, which aspires to return humans to the Moon as early as 2025. If selected for the inaugural mission, Mann will make further history as the first woman to land on the Moon.
Resources: Smithsonianmag.org, NASA.gov, Spacewatch.global