NASA Removes Le Moyne Grad from Space Shuttle Flight

Photo Date: September 30, 2009
Location: Bldg. 8, Room 272 Photo Studio
Subject: Official Astronaut portrait of Jeanette Epps
Photographer:  Robert Markowitz

Robert Markowitz - NASA - JSC

Photo Date: September 30, 2009 Location: Bldg. 8, Room 272 Photo Studio Subject: Official Astronaut portrait of Jeanette Epps Photographer: Robert Markowitz

Thursday January 18 NASA announced that Le Moyne grad and Syracuse native Jeanette J. Epps would no longer be traveling to space to live on the International Space Station later this year. She will be replaced by her fellow astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor.

Epps is a graduate of Corcoran High School and graduated Le Moyne in 1992 with an undergraduate degree in physics. She went on to receive her doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. She was also Le Moyne’s 2016 convocation speaker.

Epps was removed from the flight crew for unspecified reasons, with NASA stating that she is still eligible for future endeavors into space. She had already begun training for Expeditions 56-57, but will soon be returning to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Had she not been removed, she would have become the first African-American person to live on the ISS.

These removals are not uncommon at NASA, where last minute changes and corrections are a constant. Pilot Ken Mattingly was withdrawn from Apollo 13 days before launch due to measles exposure. However, NASA has been silent regarding the reason for Epps’ removal.

While NASA cannot specify the reason for Epps’ removal, her brother has claimed that it is racism. Henry Epps claims his sister has faced adversity in the form of racism and sexism at NASA and the removal of a successful black woman from the Flights 5657 crew is unacceptable.

In a Facebook post that has since been deleted, Henry Epps stated: “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 also linked a petition to NASA to reinstate her.

Epps could not comment on her brother’s post or the nature of her removal. She clarified to the Washington Post that the removal was not due to medical or family reasons and that she and her family had nothing to do with the Facebook petition.

Epps’ journey would have made history and she spoke about how honored she felt to take on this role after she was selected in February of 2017. She wanted to emphasize the hard work that got her to where she was and hoped to be an inspiration to young girls of color and women in STEM.

“It felt like a huge amount of responsibility. There have been three African-Americans who have visited ISS, but they haven’t done the long-duration mission that I am undertaking. I’ll be the one spending the longest time on the ISS,” Epps told The Cut last year. “As a steward, I want to do well with this honor. I want to make sure that young people know that this didn’t happen overnight. There was a lot of work involved, and a lot of commitment and consistency. It is a daunting task to take on.”

NASA also released a statement claiming “Diversity and inclusion are integral to mission success at NASA and we have a diverse astronaut corps reflective of that approach.” In fact, Jeanette Epps’ replacement Serena Auñón-Chancellor will be making history as the first Latinx woman to live on the space station.

Even though Epps has been removed from Flights 56-57, she has not been placed on any probation or permanent leave and NASA has said she is still eligible for future missions. With luck, that will be soon and her adventure can continue.