West News Wire: When NASA sends its new crew to the International Space Station this autumn, astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann will make history as the first Native American woman in space.
Astronaut and pilot Josh Cassada, astronaut Koichi Wakata from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina will fly with Mann as co-commander of the SpaceX Crew-5 mission.
An enrolled Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, Mann told news reporters, “I feel, I believe in one word, simply extremely excited.” The launch with this crew and the training we’ve received will be an amazing mission,
Born in California, Mann graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, where she was the varsity women’s soccer captain. She earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford and later became a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. She has been deployed twice aboard aircraft carriers, flying missions in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was awarded six medals for her service.
“Teamwork is so important to human spaceflight,” she told news reporters. “And I think my background in the Marine Corps and also playing soccer on a team really helped develop that.”
The expedition will be Mann’s first space flight since she became an astronaut in 2013. She is one of eight members of NASA’s 21st astronaut class, nicknamed the “Eight Balls,” formed for space station operations and potential future assignments to the Moon and Mars.
During the upcoming mission, which is set for launch on Monday, Oct. 3, the team will conduct scientific experiments to benefit life on Earth and prepare for human exploration of outer space. Their preparation included instruction in space station systems, Russian language and robotics, as well as science and physiological and survival training.
“We’ll get a chance to do a couple of spacewalks, flying the robotic arm, and so there’s a lot that goes into that preparation to be ready for your mission,” Mann said.
Cassada, who along with Mann are the last two in their class to fly to space, described her as “incredibly capable” and one of his “closest friends.”
“Her ability to shift gears is really interesting this ability to say, ‘OK, Josh, you’re joking. We’re done joking. We’re focusing and we are 100% operational this moment,'” he told news reporters. “And it’s really neat that it takes us all in the exact same direction just very organically.”
In his allocated 3.3 pounds of personal items, Cassada said he plans to pack 1980s movies for the team to watch every Friday, teasing Mann for never understanding his movie references and jokes, despite growing up in the ’80s.
Mann, on the other hand, said she will bring her wedding ring and a gift from her mother when she was young: a dream catcher, which in some Native American cultures symbolizes unity and provides protection.
On his 13-day journey, John Herrington, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation, carried the flag of his people as well as a traditional flute. He was the first Native American to fly into space in 2002.
It ultimately “doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a guy, what nation you’re from, or your gender or your color,” according to Mann.
She declared, “We are uniting as a human species, and our objective on board the International Space Station to advance this science and technology for the good of all of humanity is actually what unites us.