The First Native American Woman Astronaut Prepares for Liftoff

Later this month, Nicole Aunapu Mann will become the first Native American woman to travel to space. She will be the mission commander of the crew heading for the International Space Station and will lead all phases of the flight. Scheduled liftoff is September 29. 

Portraits of the NASA SpaceX Crew-5

A collage of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 from left to right, top to bottom: NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina. Photo: NASA


Mann is a member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes. She will be leading the four-person mission aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. Herself, NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina, and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata will take over from the foursome currently at the ISS. They will then conduct 250 experiments to help further our exploration of space. 

“It’s important that we communicate this to our community so that other Native kids…realize that some of those barriers that used to be there are really starting to get broken down,” she told Indian Country Today. 

Three members of the Crew-5 team are photographed work together on a laptop

Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada, and Koichi Wakata. Photo: NASA


Mars next?

Mann was selected to join NASA in June 2013. She originally studied mechanical engineering at Stanford University and went on to become a colonel in the Marine Corps. During her time in the military, she was a test pilot in the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet. She served twice on aircraft carriers supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning multiple medals for her service. 

She completed her NASA candidate training in 2015 and is one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class. Besides this mission, she is also on the shortlist for the first crewed Artemis missions to the moon, and assignments to Mars.

To prepare for her flight she, and her crew, have undertaken training on ISS spacewalks, Russian, robotics, physiology training, and wilderness survival.

The first Native American man in space was John Herrington in 2002. 

NASA astronaut Nicole Mann

Nicole Mann. Photo: NASA

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.