NASA has removed American astronaut Jeanette Epps from the roster of crew members leaving for the next mission to the International Space Station, just months prior to launch.
Epps was supposed to be the first African-American astronaut assigned to the ISS crew, the BBC reports. She would have flown aboard a scheduled Russian Soyuz flight in June, but is now being replaced by another astronaut.
The space agency has not disclosed its reasons for Epps removal from the team, but says she is being considered for future endeavors.
Epps was born in Syracuse and completed her doctorate in aerospace engineering in 2000. After graduation, she worked in a laboratory before the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recruited her.
She was a technical intelligence officer for seven years, including deployment to Iraq, before NASA selected her as a member of its 2009 astronaut class.
In a 2017 interview with Elle magazine, Epps said, “I get very excited when I think about being up in space, partly because I compare it to going into a war zone. Both are very dangerous but, for me, it’s a no-brainer: I would rather face the dangers in space than go back to a war zone.” She added,
When people come back from space, I see how much they want to go again.
Epps was to have launched to the ISS from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, alongside astronaut Alexander Gerst from the German European Space Agency (Esa) and the flight’s commander, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Prokopev on Expedition 56/57.
While NASA has not given an explanation, it said that Epps would “return to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to assume duties in the Astronaut Office.”
Serena Auñón-Chancellor will serve as Epps’ replacement. Auñón-Chancellor is a medical doctor from Fort Collins, Colorado, who has spent over nine months in Russia as support staff for medical operations for space station crew members.