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NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann becomes first Native American woman to travel to space

Nicole Aunapu Mann
Posted at 8:55 AM, Oct 07, 2022

NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann has become the first Native American woman to travel to space.

A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched Wednesday to the International Space Station, with Mann commanding the Crew-5 mission.

She was joined by NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata and Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

Ahead of her mission, Mann — who is registered with the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes in California — told Indian Country Today "it's very exciting" to be the first Native woman in space.

"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," she told the publication.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mann said she was bringing a dream catcher her mother gave her.

"I will keep that with me in my crew quarters when I sleep aboard the International Space Station," she said.

The spacecraft was scheduled to dock with the space station on Thursday.

Born in California, Mann graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and now holds the rank of colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.

She earned her wings as a Navy aviator and deployed twice aboard aircraft carriers, flying missions in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She also earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford.

Mann was selected by NASA in June 2013 as one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class intended to focus on space station operations before possible assignments to future missions to the moon, near-Earth asteroids or, eventually, Mars.

NASA's SpaceX Crew-5 astronauts in the Astronaut Crew Quarters in the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Oct. 4, 2022

While Mann will earn a place in the history books, NASA astronaut John Herrington, a member of the Chickasaw Nation, became the first Native American in space when he flew aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2002.

Mann's NASA training includes intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, spacewalks, Russian language training, robotics, physiological training, T-38 flight training and water and wilderness survival training.

Mann has achieved numerous awards, including two Air Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.