In 2021, NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps will blast off in a Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for a six-month stint aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Not only will it be her first trip to space, but she’ll also be making history as the first Black woman to live on the ISS.
When Epps was 9 years old, her older brother suggested that she become either an astronaut or an aerospace engineer, and she thought the latter option was more feasible. After graduating from LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York, with a degree in physics, she continued her education at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she eventually got a doctorate in aerospace engineering. According to a NASA press release, Epps spent the next few years writing patents in a research laboratory until the CIA came calling with a job offer: technical intelligence officer. She stayed with the agency for seven years, but when a friend told her that NASA was looking for new astronauts, she decided to apply.
“I never thought that they’d actually select me,” she told Parentology. “But they did.”
While Epps hasn’t been to space yet, she has embarked on plenty of other fascinating journeys—including nine days in NASA’s underwater research center, and five days studying microorganisms in a very dark Slovenian cave.
The upcoming mission will also be the first spaceflight for fellow crew member Josh Cassada, while Sunita Williams, their other colleague, has visited twice already.
“I’m super excited to join Suni Williams and Josh Cassada on the first operational Boeing crew mission to the International Space Station,” Epps said in a Twitter video. “I’ve flown in helicopters with Suni flying and I’ve flown in the back of a T-38 with Josh flying, and they are both wonderful people to work with. So I’m looking forward to the mission.”
According to CNBC, six Black astronauts have visited the ISS in the past, but they’ve only been there for short stays. Victor Glover is slated to spend six months there on a mission launching this October, which would make him the first Black man to live aboard the station.