Big round of applause for Nicole Aunapu Mann, a member of the Wailacki nation!
This fall, astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann, a naval aviator and mechanical engineer, is set to fly to the International Space Station as a member of NASA's upcoming SpaceX Crew-5 mission — and in doing so, as Universe Today reports, she'll become the first ever indigenous woman in space.
Mann, who hails from Petaluma, California, is a member of the Wailacki nation, one of the Round Valley Indian Tribes native to Northern California. A marine with a venerable military career, she's served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and has logged more than 2,500 hours of flight time in 25 different types of aircrafts, according to Universe Today.
Mann also helped build the Space Launch System (SLS), NASA's massive mega Moon rocket, now scheduled to launch the first Artemis mission later this month.
"It's very exciting," Mann told Indian Country Today. "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 realize that some of those barriers that used to be there are really starting to get broken down."
This is an achievement worth highlighting. NASA has a long history of exclusion — something that the agency has had to grapple with in recent years. And while NASA shouldn't get any untoward credit for righting wrongs that are long overdue, we should absolutely celebrate the change-makers like Mann who are bravely breaking decades-old barriers.
Mann's space exploration aspirations don't stop with Crew-5. She's one of the 18 astronauts who was selected to train for the Artemis Moon landings, which means that Mann — if ultimately chosen from this elite group of 18 — could someday be the first woman to step foot on the Moon.
"It's just this really overwhelming sense of emotion," Mann told Inverse back in 2021, discussing the opportunity to potentially be chosen for the Moon landings, "in the best of ways that I can describe."
READ MORE: NASA Astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann will be the First Indigenous Woman in Space! [Universe Today]
More on NASA and diversity: Why Hasn’t NASA Hired More Black and Brown Astronauts?