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Nicole Mann to become first Native American woman in space. She wants Native kids to know they can do it too.

Astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann, of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, will be mission commander, responsible for all phases of flight.

Nicole Mann to become first Native American woman in space. She wants Native kids to know they can do it too.
Cover Image Source: NASA

This fall, Nicole Aunapu Mann, 45, will become the first Native American woman to fly into space. Mann, a Wailacki member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes in Northern California, will be astride the SpaceX Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station on September 29, according to the BBC.



As part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, this is the fifth crew rotation flight. Mann is the mission commander on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, overseeing all aspects of the flight from the launch at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. She will also play the role of the space station's Expedition 68 flight engineer. The Crew-5 mission will also include NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina.



Mann is originally from California and attended Stanford University to study mechanical engineering. She ascended to the position of colonel in the Marine Corps, piloting various fighter planes. She has served on aircraft carriers twice, supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has received six medals for her service to the U.S. military. She was also chosen in 2020 to be part of a pool of astronauts qualified for NASA's Artemis program, which will send astronauts to the Moon.





"It's very exciting," she said about being the first Native 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 realise that some of those barriers that used to be there are really starting to get broken down.”

Mann says she'll bring "a dreamcatcher that my mother gave me when I was very young" in her 3.3 lb (1.4kg) allowance for personal items. “I have some special gifts for my family, which I can't say because they're a surprise. Definitely taking my wedding rings, and I have this dream catcher that my mother gave me when I was very young,” she said. “It's kind of always stayed with me throughout my time.



This is the 45-year-old's first spaceflight and she is excited about the science aboard that will benefit mankind. “One of the ones that I'm looking most forward to is called the biofabrication facility. And it is literally 3D printing human cells, which to me sounds so futuristic, right?” she stated with enthusiasm, in an interview with Indian Country Today.



On Earth, gravity makes printing and cell growth difficult. That's not the case in space, where the cell has "a much more intact structure," she says. The ultimate goal is to print human organs.“We're not there yet. However, we have successfully printed some heart cells as well as part of the meniscus of a knee. And so this facility has flown, and then come and printed cells and then come back to Earth,” she said. “They made changes, they learned it flew again, came back to Earth, they made changes, and they're about to fly it again. So that'll be our chance to participate.”

Of course, she hopes to do a few spacewalks after putting in a lot of effort. That was most likely the most difficult but enjoyable aspect of her astronaut training experience. “So they put you in a spacesuit, just like you would be in space, and they blow up like a balloon,” Mann said. “And that's what it's like when you go out the door in vacuum, then they put you in this huge pool to simulate microgravity, and use a team of divers and weights and foam.”



A mockup of the space station, or most of its parts, lies inside this massive pool in which astronauts work on the space station, crawling around in "this kind of like scuba diving, kinda like a jungle gym."

“But each time you move, you're working against the pressure of that suit, of that 4.3 psi. So it's like a marathon. The training run is six hours long, you're physically exhausted, you're mentally exhausted,” Mann said. “You're done at the end of one of these runs, but everybody says it is the most realistic training for doing a spacewalk in space. And being under the water and climbing along the space station and doing these tasks. It is incredible. It is some of the coolest training I think that we do. And hopefully I'll have an opportunity to do that in space for real.”

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