Jeanette Epps, who was slated to become the first African-American astronaut to become a crew member of the International Space Station's Expedition 56/57, has been pulled out from the upcoming June launch.
Serving as the replacement is Serena Auñón-Chancellor whom NASA previously assigned to join the Expedition 58/59 crew. Anne McClain from the 2013 astronaut corps will fly on her stead in November.
Meanwhile, Epps is returning to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to serve in its Astronaut Office but would still be put in consideration for future missions.
NASA's Reason Behind Crew Update Not Disclosed
The American space agency has not disclosed any reason behind this sudden crew update. However, this is not the first time that an astronaut was bumped from a mission.
In 1970, Ken Mattingly was removed from an Apollo 13 mission where he was supposed to serve as command module pilot. This decision was made a week before the launch due to health concerns. Apparently, the primary crew was exposed to the measles virus and Mattingly was not vaccinated for the disease.
Serena Auñón-Chancellor: NASA Flight Surgeon
Auñón-Chancellor hails from Fort Collins, Colorado. She was inducted into the 2009 corps but has been working for the agency as a flight surgeon since 2006.
Before becoming an astronaut, she spent over nine months in Russia to support medical operations dedicated to space station crew members. There, she underwent water survival training in Ukraine and then served as the deputy lead for Orion's medical operations.
Aside from having a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from George Washington University, the female astronaut earned her Doctorate of Medicine from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
She is a board-certified doctor of medicine and aerospace medicine. Also, she holds a master's degree in public health from the University of Texas Medical Branch.
Could Under Qualification Be The Issue?
"A number of factors are considered when making flight assignments. However, these decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn't provide information," says Johnson Space Center spokeswoman Brandi Dean.
Normally, NASA explains reassignments when there is a medical issue. Which is why most have doubted whether Epps is qualified for the mission or not.
Just like her substitute, the New York-born astronaut is also a doctor. While Epps was in graduate school, she was already working with the agency as a NASA fellow.
Moreover, she also authored highly-referenced journals, as well as conference articles that describe her research about composite sweet-tip beams, shape memory alloys, and the application of these alloys on tracking helicopter rotor blades.
A statement reveals that she first worked at Ford Motor Company where she participated in a research on automobile collision location detection and countermeasure systems. The research resulted in a U.S. Patent.
Epps then joined the Central Intelligence Agency, where she served as a Technical Intelligence Officer for seven years.