The nation’s first spacefaring Native American woman astronaut was one of four crew members aboard the SpaceX-powered launch Tuesday morning that left Kennedy Space Center on a mission to the International Space Station.

California native Nicole Anapu Mann is a member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes and is headed for a rendezvous with the ISS on Thursday, along with fellow crewmates NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina and Koichi Wakata from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Who is NASA astronaut Nicole Mann?

According to her NASA bio, Mann is a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and previously served as a test pilot in the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet. She deployed twice aboard aircraft carriers in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mann was selected in June 2013 as one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class. Her astronaut candidate training included intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, spacewalks, Russian language training, robotics, physiological training, T-38 flight training, and water and wilderness survival training.

In an August interview, Mann, 45, told Indian Country Today that she hoped her success as a NASA astronaut would inspire Native American children to pursue their dreams without perceived limits or barriers.

“It’s very exciting,” Mann said, referring to being the first Native American 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.”

Mann will spend about five months aboard the International Space Station before returning to Earth next spring.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon capsule, with a multinational crew of four astronauts, lifts off from Launch Complex 39-A on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., beginning a five-month mission to the International Space Station. | John Raoux, Associated Press

Could Nicole Mann become the first woman to step foot on the moon?

While the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Tuesday morning, NASA’s massive Space Launch System rocket, the power plant behind the Artemis I moon mission, remained under cover in the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building, having been moved off its launch pad last week ahead of the incoming Hurricane Ian.

The Artemis I mission has been plagued by technical issues that led to scrubs in each of its first two launch attempts and a hoped-for third attempt was derailed by weather.

NASA said it conducted inspections last Friday to assess potential impacts from Hurricane Ian but found “facilities are in good shape with only minor water intrusion identified in a few locations.”

The U.S. space agency is now focusing on the next opportunity to get the Artemis I mission off the ground with planning efforts underway for the launch window that opens Nov. 12 and closes Nov. 27.

Related
Opinion: We can’t afford not to launch Artemis 1
Back to the moon: NASA’s upcoming Artemis I launch first step in returning astronauts to the lunar surface

Artemis I is just the first in a three-phase program aiming to put astronauts back on the surface of the moon for the first time since the final Apollo moon visit in December 1972.

And, NASA has committed to including the first woman and first person of color to land on the lunar surface during that moon visit.

According to CNN, Mann is one of 18 astronauts that could be assigned to the Artemis mission that will return astronauts to the moon, possibly in 2025. That group is getting ready for a potential lunar mission by rotating through visits to the International Space Station.

Related
NASA has been on a roll but is aiming for even bigger wins

“What we are going to do in low-Earth orbit is a stepping stone to achieve those goals of exploration into deep space,” Mann said, using the term “low-Earth orbit” to refer to the area of space where the International Space Station orbits, per CNN. “We’re going to gain a ton of experience flying in low-Earth orbit, and any of us could be assigned to an Artemis mission in the future. And hopefully we’ll walk on the moon together one day.”