NASA and SpaceX will launch their fifth joint spacecraft to the International Space Station on Wednesday, sending the first Native American woman into Earth’s orbit as NASA plans for its historic Artemis mission to send humans to the moon, and potentially Mars.
NASA is set to launch its Falcon 9 rocket at noon on Wednesday, sending NASA astronauts Nicole Mann—a member of the Wailacki people of the Round Valley Indian Tribes in California—and Josh Cassada, as well as astronauts Koichi Wakata from Japan and Anna Kikina of Russia.
Mann, a former U.S. fighter pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the first Native American person to enter space since John Herrington in 2002.
American Indians comprise roughly 1.1% of the U.S. population (3.7 million people), according to 2020 federal Census data. In August, Mann told Reuters it’s “it’s important that we celebrate our diversity” and that the message should be communicated “specifically to the younger generation,” while she told ABC’s Good Morning America the research on the ISS will “benefit all of humankind.”
NASA’s previous launch to the ISS came in April, for the SpaceX Crew-4 mission that took its most diverse crew on a half-year mission to the space station. It comes one month after the agency had scrubbed consecutive attempts to send an uncrewed Artemis rocket into the moon’s orbit after engineers detected a fuel leak. That mission is intended to provide testing ahead of a crewed mission to the moon, planned for 2025–the first crewed moon landing in more than 50 years. NASA had also stated it plans to put a woman and a person of color on the moon. The launch, which NASA decided to postpone by one day due to Hurricane Ian, is also the first time a Russian cosmonaut is launching into space from U.S. soil since 2002.
NASA, hoping to extend life of Hubble telescope, looks to SpaceX (Washington Post)