The brother of Syracuse-born astronaut Jeanette Epps is speaking out after NASA pulled his sister from an impending mission to the International Space Station last week.
Epps’ dreams of becoming the first African-American ISS crew member were cut short after the space agency announced Thursday, Jan. 18, that she’d been axed from the crew. NASA didn’t give a reason for the reassignment, however, but announced fellow astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor as her replacement for the June mission.
In a Facebook post late Saturday, Epps’ brother, Henry Epps, seemed to hint at why his sister was removed from the crew.
“My sister Dr. Jeannette Epps has been fighting against oppressive racism and misogynist in NASA and now they’re holding her back and allowing a Caucasian Astronaut to take her place!” Henry Epps wrote. “We have lost all of the gains we gained over the past 40 years in one year? No more!”
Epps also shared a MoveOn.org petition demanding the space agency reassign his sister to the mission. The petition, launched Saturday, has already gained over 600 signatures with just 120 more needed to hit its goal of 750. Epps didn’t start the document himself, but he and several other family members have signed it, according to Syracuse.com.
“We cannot continue to tolerate what is going on in America, [but] we must stand together and stand behind our people and our nation!” he wrote. “Take a stand and sign the petition! Thank you!”
Despite mounting pressure from an outraged public, NASA has remained tight-lipped about its reasons for Epps’ removal. Ars Technica reported that it is not unusual for the agency to offer limited details when flight crews are reassigned. In an emailed statement last week, a NASA spokesperson explained that “a number of factors are considered when making flight assignments and decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn’t provide information.”
For now, Epps will assume duties at the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. She’ll be considered for future space missions, however, the agency said in a press release.
The mission would’ve been Epps’ very first flight to space, a journey only three other Black women have taken.
Henry Epps could not be reached for comment.