Nicole Aunapu Mann, who became the first Native American woman in space last fall, set another landmark January 20 becoming the first Indigenous person to complete a spacewalk.
Born in Petaluma, California, Mann is a registered member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes. She blasted off October 5 as the head of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), where she will stay for another few weeks.
She spent seven hours outside the space station working with Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to install brackets and struts that will be used for solar panels and will be attached later this year.
NASA said she will do another spacewalk February 2 with Wakata to finish the installation of hardware for the solar array. Aboard the ISS, they are joined by colleagues from Canada, the US, Russia, Europe and Japan.
“I feel very proud,” Mann told the Guardian newspaper in an interview before she departed in October. “It’s important that we celebrate our diversity and really communicate that specifically to the younger generation.”
Before her career as an astronaut, Mann was a decorated colonel with the U.S. Marines, where she flew thousands of hours in 25 types of aircraft, including 47 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then in 2013 she was selected as one of eight members of NASA’s 21st astronaut class, which she completed in 2015.
She earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1999 before completing a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University in 2001. When she’s not flying hundreds of kilometres above Earth, she lives in Houston with her husband and son.
In an interview with her hometown newspaper, the Petaluma Argus-Courier, Judy Coffey said she knew Mann since she was a child. “What I can remember is she always loved the sky,” she said. “She would always talk about the stars and the moon. I can remember that so clearly. She was intrigued by the sky and space when she was 10, 12, 13 years old. It didn’t always make sense to me at the time, but it sure does today.”
Prior to Mann, the only other Native American to fly in space was John Herrington, who flew on a shuttle mission in 2002.