NASA Cuts Black Female Astronaut from Space Mission for Lack of Skill

Jeanette Epps has been scrubbed from a mission to the International Space Station in June due to concerns over her academic record and lack of demonstrated technical and engineering ability.
Jeanette Epps has been scrubbed from a mission to the International Space Station in June due to concerns over her academic record and lack of demonstrated technical and engineering ability.

San Francisco, CA – It was meant to be a moment in history, Jeanette Epps, the first black female astronaut this century, had been scheduled to go on the International Space Station. But late Thursday evening, NASA released a statement pulling Epps from the June launch, but provided no reasons for her scrubbing from the mission. According to the statement, Epps has been asked to return to the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. According to a NASA official from the Houston Space Center, who spoke on condition of anonymity as investigations are still ongoing,

“Epps was scrubbed because of issues with her academic record.”

Epps first became an astronaut with NASA in 2009 as part of the Obama administration’s directive to NASA to improve the diversity at the space agency. Although Epps was a NASA fellow during graduate school, the space agency did not consider hiring her initially because of her lack of technical skills and limited engineering knowledge. A former co-worker who worked with Epps when she was a fellow and spoke on condition of anonymity, citing NASA’s non-disclosure agreements upon resignation from the agency,

“She struggled with many very basic engineering problems, things which any freshman engineering student would have known. We’re talking basic engineering formulas, not even advanced stuff.”

“I brought the issue up with my supervisors at the time and they said they’d look into it.”

Obama instituted diversity policies at almost all of federal government agencies upon his inauguration in 2009, with Jeanette Epps being hired by NASA soon after he became president.
Obama instituted diversity policies at almost all of federal government agencies upon his inauguration in 2009, with Jeanette Epps being hired by NASA soon after he became president.

Eventually Epps joined the Central Intelligence Agency where she worked for seven years. In 2009, after Obama was elected as the first black president, he instituted a diversity policy in most federal government agencies, including NASA. According to a former Obama administration aide, then-first lady, Michelle Obama, had pushed for a black woman to be sent to the ISS. According to the aide, Michelle said,

“You’re telling me we have a black president and we don’t have a single black astronaut?”

NASA struggled to fulfill Obama’s diversity policy directives, especially since there were not enough blacks who had the requisite technical and engineering backgrounds for NASA to hire, let alone send to space. The agency finally settled on Epps, who had served as a NASA fellow for a short time before joining the CIA, but had problems with her from the start.

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Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York is not known for its STEM graduates, as reflected by black astronaut Jeanette Epps lack of technical and engineering skills, despite having graduated with a degree in Physics from the college.
Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York is not known for its STEM graduates, as reflected by black astronaut Jeanette Epps lack of technical and engineering skills, despite having graduated with a degree in Physics from the college.

Epps, who is from Syracuse, New York, graduated with a physics degree from LeMoyne College, a master of science degree in aerospace engineering and a doctorate of philosophy in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. Both LeMoyne College and the University of Maryland are not known for their science degrees. LeMoyne College, a private Jesuit college in particular is more well-known for its liberal arts degrees and even then is ranked #415 in the country by Time magazine. According to another former NASA employee who also spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the non-disclosure agreement they signed with the agency after leaving,

“There was a time when NASA hired the brightest students from across the country. People were Nobel prize laureates. People with advanced degrees from MIT, Stanford, Caltech. Top schools. These days you just need to be a minority and you’ve got one foot in the door.”

It’s unsurprising then that during the two terms of the Obama administration, NASA, which once put a man on the moon had to depend on Russian spacecraft for its astronauts to arrive at the ISS. The NASA employee added,

“It’s embarrassing. There was a time when NASA was a great place to work and you had a feeling that you were working with the sharpest minds in the business, that you were going to change the world.”

Epps, who was originally scheduled to go to the ISS in June was hired amidst much fanfare that she would be the first black female astronaut, but the issue with her academic record and her apparent lack of technical and engineering ability was what allegedly forced NASA to scrub her from the space mission. According to the NASA official from Houston who is familiar with why Epps was scrubbed,

“The ISS is not a bus and Epps is not Rosa Parks. There are other astronauts from around the world up there who are going to be depending on her (Epps) to know her job and to do her job well – we can’t bear the responsibility if she goes up there and screws things up.”

The International Space Station in orbit around the earth. The tight living conditions means that astronauts onboard are required to have a variety of technical and engineering skills, which Jeanette Epps failed to demonstrate to NASA.
The International Space Station in orbit around the earth. The tight living conditions means that astronauts onboard are required to have a variety of technical and engineering skills, which Jeanette Epps failed to demonstrate to NASA.

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The ISS has astronauts from all over the world living in tight living conditions for up to six months at a time and due to the cramped living conditions, only mission critical staff with multiple capabilities are onboard at any given time. The NASA official added,

“We (NASA) are actively looking into whether some of her college transcripts were forged or doctored at this stage. There’s enough reasonable doubt to question her academic record given her lack of demonstrated technical ability.”

Epps however remains defiant, claiming that her academic record is flawless and during a 2015 program at Space Center Houston for middle school students, said to the young minds,

“I spent 11 and a half years in school beyond high school to get where I am today. I want to encourage you to take a course in STEM and build a foundation for yourself.”

“Even if you don’t end up where I am, it’s a great place to get a feel for what’s out there. Get involved. I never thought I’d get here, but here I am.”

Epps should never have been where she is and thanks to President Donald Trump, NASA has now gradually started to reintroduce a purely merit-based system for selecting astronauts to be sent to the ISS. President Trump has already announced bold plans for NASA to place astronauts on the surface of Mars, a plan exceeding former president John F. Kennedy’s wildest fantasies and one which would not be achievable if NASA continued on its diversity hiring practices.

President Donald Trump at the Oval Office where he signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 which calls for a $19.5 billion budget, a mission to mars and a cancellation of Obama's wasteful asteroid hunts.
President Donald Trump at the Oval Office where he signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 which calls for a $19.5 billion budget, a mission to mars and a cancellation of Obama’s wasteful asteroid hunts.

Epps has been replaced by Serena Auñón-Chancellor. Auñón-Chancellor, who’s been with the agency since 2006, has been reassigned to the Expedition 56/57 crew and will serve as Epp’s replacement. Unlike Epps, Auñón-Chancellor holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the renowned George Washington University, which is one of the nation’s top 100 colleges, according to Forbes magazine. She also has an M.D. from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and an M.P.H degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch.

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NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, attired in a training version of her Extravehicular Mobility Unit will be replacing the black Jeanette Epps whose academic transcripts are now under question after having failed to demonstrate adequate technical skills and knowledge.
NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, attired in a training version of her Extravehicular Mobility Unit will be replacing the black Jeanette Epps whose academic transcripts are now under question after having failed to demonstrate adequate technical skills and knowledge.

Auñón-Chancellor, who is certified in internal and aerospace medicine, started as a flight surgeon for NASA and worked in Russia, Ukraine, and also as deputy lead for medical operations for NASA’s Orion spacecraft. She also holds a Julian E. Ward Memorial Award from the Aerospace Medical Association for her contributions to spaceflight crewmember clinical care. According to NASA’s Houston official,

“I’m glad that Epps was scrubbed, it wouldn’t be right or safe for her to be there in the ISS with all the other astronaut’s lives depending on her.”

According to a senior White House official in the Trump administration who spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak with the media,

“The era of diversity hiring for diversity’s sake is over. We need to send our best people to do our hardest jobs. We need our best people to Make America Great Again.”

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