NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps was on track to become the first African-American crew member on the International Space Station this year, but the space agency announced today that it was withdrawn from its mission for unspecified reasons. It was supposed to be launched as part of Expedition 56/67 in June 2018.
Instead, NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor will take the place of Epps. Like Epps, Auñón-Chancellor was one of 14 astronaut candidates that NASA selected from 3,500 applicants in 2009. Epps came to NASA through a doctorate in aerospace engineering and seven years at the CIA as a technical intelligence officer . Auñón-Chancellor is a doctor with certifications in internal medicine and aerospace.
NASA's announcement did not explain why the agency removed Epps from the mission. "A number of factors are taken into account when making flight assignments – these decisions are personnel matters for which NASA does not provide information," said Brandi Dean, spokesperson for NASA, in an email to The Verge . Now, instead of taking what would have been his first flight in orbit, Epps will be working in the Astronaut Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. She could still be assigned to future missions, the space agency said in a statement.
Other African-American astronauts visited the Space Station, including Leland Melvin, who encouraged Epps to apply for the 2009 NASA class. But Epps would have been the first to become a long-term crew member, living and working on the ISS for months.