Though more than a dozen Black Americans have traveled to space since Guion Bluford became the first to do so in 1983, none has had the opportunity to live and work in space for an extended period, as the ISS has enabled more than 200 astronauts to do since 2000.
On Tuesday, after years of speculation about why NASA removed Epps from her assignment, she was finally reassigned. NASA said she will join astronauts Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada on a 2021 mission aboard a Boeing-built Starliner spacecraft, a vehicle still under development that is expected to re-do a key test flight later this year.
Epps has a doctorate in aerospace engineering and served seven years as a technical intelligence officer at the CIA before joining the astronaut corps in 2009. NASA said in 2017 that Epps wouid make history by joining the crew of Expedition 56. During ISS expeditions, astronauts become residents of the space station and spend months conducting experiments and caring for the 20-year-old orbiting laboratory.
But even as more than a dozen Black Americans have traveled to space on NASA’s Space Shuttle, some of whom helped build the ISS, none of them served as expedition crew members.NASA astronaut Victor Glover could be the first Black person to join the ISS crew as well. He’s assigned to a SpaceX Crew Dragon mission that is scheduled to take off later this year.