NASA, SpaceX, send first Native American woman into space

NASA and SpaceX sent the first Native American woman into space on Wednesday along with the first Russian cosmonaut to launch from U.S. soil in 20 years.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Wednesday afternoon from the Kennedy Space Station in Florida, carrying four members of Crew-5 aboard the Dragon Endurance Spacecraft in SpaceX’s fifth full space flight with NASA, according to a news release.

NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, an Indigenous woman and the crew’s mission commander, joined fellow NASA astronaut and pilot Josh Cassada. Also with them were Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

Crew-5 will serve as mission specialists overseeing research studying cardiovascular health, bioprinting and fluid behavior in microgravity on the International Space Station.

Along with other NASA astronauts, Roscosmos cosmonauts and European Space Agency astronauts currently living on the space station, there will be 11 people on the space station for a few days until the next departure.

While NASA sent John Herrington, the first Native American into space, in 2002, Mann became the first Indigenous woman in space.

Mann was born in Petaluma, Calif., but lives in Houston with her husband and son. She became an astronaut in 2013 and is a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and a member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes.

She told The Wall Street Journal before takeoff the trip was “going to be just incredible” and that it was important for children to believe they can do momentous things such as go to space regardless of their race or gender.

“There are people that still grow up in communities where there are boundaries,” Mann told the newspaper. “And if they can realize that these boundaries are being broken down and can be broken down, hopefully that empowers them to really pursue their dreams.”

Mann said she planned to bring her dreamcatcher, a gift from her mother, with her.

Kikina on Wednesday also made headlines after she became the first Russian to launch from U.S. soil since 2002.

The cosmonaut swapped places with a NASA astronaut as part of a crew-swap deal with Russia signed in July.

The NASA astronaut, Frank Rubio, launched aboard a Soyuz spaceflight last month in Kazakhstan.

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