Last year, NASA announced Jeanette Epps had been chosen to go to the International Space Station (ISS) in June of this year, which would have made Epps the first African-American woman to live on the station long-term. Many criticized NASA after Epps was suddenly removed from the mission earlier this year. In a recent interview, however, Epps said she is "not defined" by the experience.
In an interview with Quartz, Epps, who has a doctorate in aerospace engineering, shared what it was like learning she had suddenly been removed from the mission. Epps said it was awkward that NASA's decision was "so public."
"It was like 'NASA what are you doing? It’s so public, do you really want to do this now?'" she said. She added, "The other part of this is that I’m not defined by this one thing that happened."
Epps was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009 after working for the CIA for seven years, The Washington Post reported. In a video interview posted on The Post's website, Epps shared she first felt inspired to become an astronaut or work in aerospace engineering at 9 years old.
Henry Epps, the astronaut's brother, reportedly wrote a Facebook post when NASA made its announcement blaming racism and misogyny for his sister's removal.
"My sister, Dr. Jeanette Epps, has been fighting against oppressive racism and misogynist in NASA, and now they are holding her back and allowing a Caucasian astronaut to take her place!” the post which has since been removed read, according to The Post.
A moveon.org petition – which Epps reportedly said was not made by anyone in her family – was also created at the time to demand NASA reinstate Epps for the mission. Epps reported not to have had a medical condition or family problem that would have prevented her from completing the mission.
Although NASA did not give a reason for the reassignment, the agency released the following statement at the time:
"Diversity and inclusion are integral to mission success at NASA, and we have a diverse astronaut corps reflective of that approach.”
According to The Independent, a NASA Johnson Space Center spokesperson also released the following statement at the time:
"A number of factors are considered when making flight assignments. However, these decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn’t provide information."
According to Quartz, Epps recently told audience members at the Tech Open Air conference in Berlin that although she's still waiting for an official reason for her reassignment, she prefers not to speculate on stories saying the decision was based on racism or sexism as it can detract from the mission she and her colleagues worked hard on.
"I am reinvigorated in that my career isn’t defined by this event, there’s been a ton of good things that have happened and a ton of good things that likely will happen," Epps later said in the interview in part.