A US astronaut has become the first Native American woman in space following a NASA launch on Wednesday.
Marine Colonel Nicole Mann is the first American woman of four astronauts who blasted off from Florida at midday bound for the International Space Station (ISS).
The SpaceX Falcon rocket puts them on a path to catch the orbiting outpost in about 29 hours’ time. Col Mann told the BBC that she hoped the mission would inspire future generations of Native Americans.
“It will inspire young Native American children to follow their dreams and realize that some of those barriers that are there or used to be there are being broken down,” she said.
“Anytime we are able to do something that is a first, or wasn’t done in the past, it’s so important,” she added. “They have these opportunities.”
The Journey of Col Mann
Nicole Mann originally from California studied mechanical engineering at Stanford University.
She became a colonel in the Marine Corps, flying various fighter aircraft. She has been deployed twice on aircraft carriers supporting combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and was awarded six medals for her service to the US military.
“Anytime we are able to do something that is a first it’s so important,” she added. “They have these opportunities.”
Col Mann has had to wait to make her debut in space having completed her astronaut training in 2015.
She’d previously been assigned to a mission in Boeing’s Starliner capsule. But the vehicle is so late getting into service that NASA decided to pull her across to “Crew 5” as the quartet is known in NASA / SpaceX parlance.
Once aboard the ISS, Col Mann said that the team has about 250 scientific investigations that are planned. These include helping 3D print human cells to grow tomatoes and potentially conducting spacewalks.
Despite only being allowed to bring a limited amount of personal items such as her wedding ring and photographs. Col Mann told the BBC that she planned on bringing a reminder of her family’s Native American roots.
“I also have a special dreamcatcher that my mother gave me which will be another little piece of my family to carry with me,” she said, referring to a traditional Native American decoration.
Crew 5 will temporarily boost the number of people living on the ISS to 14.