Nicole Aunapu Mann has become the first Native American woman in space. As we previously reported, Mann was due to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) on the SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft. One of the most impressive aspects of this historic achievement is that she has done so as mission commander. Mann is only the second Native American in space—the first being John Herrington, who flew on a 2002 space shuttle mission. As of March 2022, only 75 women had been to space.
Mann is also the first woman to command a Crew Dragon capsule. She was joined by pilot Josh Cassada, as well as mission specialists Anna Kikina, from Roscosmos, and Koichi Wakata, from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The SpaceX Crew-5 mission was launched last week, and throughout their six-month mission they will carry out over 200 experiments to advance human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. Their research will include studies on how microgravity affects the cardiorespiratory system, modeling heart tissue to improve treatments for spaceflight-caused health issues, and the 3D bioprinting of human organs.
Mann, who is a member of the Wailacki of Round Valley Indian Tribes in northern California, is also a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and was previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Her career in NASA started in 2013, after being selected as one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class, the first to include equal numbers of men and women.
In an interview with Indian News Today, she said she was excited about being the first Native American woman in space, and spoke about the significance of these efforts: “I think it's important that we communicate this to our community, so that other Native kids, if they thought maybe that this was not a possibility or to realize that some of those barriers that used to be there are really starting to get broken down.”