NASA

Astronaut Jeanette Epps was Pulled From Her NASA Assignment; There's Only Speculation as To Why

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It was a big deal to many when it had been announced that Jeanette Epps was going to be the "first black crew member to live on board the International Space Station".  On Thursday, January 18th, however, it was announced that she would no longer be going to the International Space Station in June of this year as previously scheduled.  Instead, she would be a candidate for later assignments, while fellow astronaut Serena M. Auñón-Chancellor would be taking her place.

 

NASA did not make a comment as to why this crew change had occurred, but according to the Washington Post, Epps' brother had accused the organization of racism in a (now deleted) Facebook Post.  He had stated: “My sister Dr. Jeannette 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!”  In addition to this statement, he had linked to a moveon.org petition that is hoping to reinstate Epps on this crew to the ISS.  As of the writing of this post, the petition is hoping to gain 3,000 signatures, and has 2,379 signatures at the current time.

 

Others had speculated that the crew change could have been due to health or family reasons that NASA would not announce on and that Epps may want to keep private.  However, according to the aforementioned Washington Post article, Epps stated that there had been no health reason or family reason to keep her behind.  She also said that she would not comment on her brother, Henry Epps', post about the situation.  The only thing she did comment on regarding her brother's post was that no one in her family had created the petition he linked to.

 

It's important to note that Epps' removal from this mission is not something that is an isolated incident.  Many astronauts have been bumped from missions before for various reasons.  Miriam Kramer, writing for Mashable, notes in one of her articles on the situation that NASA's Ken Mattingly was pulled from the Apollo 13 crew just a few days before their scheduled launch because he was exposed to German measles".

 

There's reason to believe that Jeanette Epps is not going to be excluded from future missions.  Former NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, says that these crew changes are common, and most of the astronauts go on to go into space at later dates.  "The exceptions are very few and far between,"  He said. 

 

It's more than likely that we will not get an official reason from NASA themselves, as they often do not comment on the crew changes.  O'Keefe has a couple speculations of his own, however, as to why Epps was replaced on this particular mission happening in June.  One of them was the idea of a health concern, which as previously stated, Epps debunked herself.  Another, however, stated how Epps and Auñón-Chancellor had different skill sets that may have determined who was better suited for this specific assignment.  "Dr. Epps is an engineer. The astronaut replacing her is a medical doctor. [It] could well be there are now more human factors research projects on the mission manifest than material science research."  Of course, though, he cannot say for sure what the reasoning was for Epps' replacement.

 
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

Historical Accuracies: Dorothy Vaughan's Actual Timeline At NASA

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Hidden Figures was a movie that took the world by storm, telling the stories of three women who worked at NASA.  Unfortunately, the movie is not something you can take literally.  It has a few inaccuracies to the story, including parts of the story of Dorothy Vaughan, who was played by Octavia Spencer.

 

Dorothy Vaughan was born in 1910, and was hired into NACA approximately twenty years before the movie Hidden Figures takes place.  When Vaughan was hired in during the forties (December of 1943) it was still NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics).  NACA wouldn't become NASA until 1958.  Vaughan retired from NASA in 1971, and passed in 2008.

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Before she worked for NACA, Dorothy Vaughan was a high school math teacher at Robert Russa Moton High.  She left, believing her job at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory would only be temporary during WWII.

 

In 1941, two years before Vaughan moved to the Laboratory, Executive Order 8802 was signed into law.  This order prohibited employment discrimination (as far as race, religion, and ethnicity) in the US, and as a result, Vaughan was one of the first African-American's to be hired as mathematicians and scientists.

 

Vaughan really was the head of the segregated West Area Computers like the movie portrays her.  Mostly, it's the timeline that's off as far as the movie's accuracy goes.

 

She was the head of this group from 1949 to 1958.  This group was dismantled three years prior to the movie's timeline.  When NACA became NASA in 1958, this group and other segregated parts of the facility were abolished.  Most of the women who worked in the WAC were transferred at that time, including Vaughan.  They were transferred to the ACD (Analysis and Computation Division), which was a racially and gender-integrated group that turned to working on electronic computing.

 

This makes another inaccuracy in the movie's timeline.  Since the WAC was abolished in 1958 and Vaughan moved on to electronic computing then, the IBM conflict in the story isn't quite accurate.  In fact, the electronic computer FORTRAN, was purchased and developed prior to the sixties.

 

Not only that, but the movie portrays Dorothy Vaughan as figuring out how the FORTRAN worked while the men were not looking.  In all actuality, programming like that was considered 'women's work' at the time.

 

The timeline inaccuracies were obviously meant to keep the movie more condensed.  Dorothy Vaughan really did work with Katherine Johnson (who liked the movie quite a bit) and Mary Jackson during that time, but many of the events that took place during the movie happened before the sixties.

 

There are other inaccuracies, such as Johnson's trips to the bathroom were actually Jackson's problem, and Glenn was never meant to orbit seven times around the Earth, as well as others.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.