Nicole Mann (Wailacki), the first Indigenous woman in space, splashes down from her first space mission to a spot on USA Today's Women of the Year list.
On October 5, 2022, SpaceX launched a group of five astronauts into the sky to conduct a six-month mission at the International Space Station. Leading the group was Nicole Mann, NASA astronaut, Marine Colonel and F/A-18 Hornet pilot, and the first Indigenous woman in space. Six months later, Mann is being honored as one of USA Today’s Women of the Year.
Carrying the legacy of John Herrington’s (Chickasaw Nation) historic 2002 voyage, Nicole Mann splashed down from her 157-day trip on March 11, 2023 in Tampa, Florida to the applause and admiration of thousands of young Native fans — a number that Mann does not take lightly.
A proud registered member of the Wailacki tribe of the Round Valley Indians, Nicole Mann has been open about her heritage and how she continues to honor it throughout her journey to space. During her mission of international importance, Mann held tight to the mementos and good luck charms that she brought along, among which was a dream catcher created for her by her mother. This piece of home kept her safe while allowing her to reflect on her roots as well as the personal importance of her mission.
A California native with a passion for flying, Nicole Mann studied mechanical engineering at the United States Naval Academy before going on receive her Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University in 2001. After education, Mann moved right into the field, becoming a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. During her time with the Marines, Mann became a test pilot for the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet and was deployed twice in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her excellence and braver led to her selection by NASA in June of 2013, and it was only a matter of time before she was able to get her first trip to space on the calendar.
While space travel has historically been a dividing force between nations, the SpaceX Crew-5 Mission headed by Mann was one of international collaboration and importance. With a crew consisting of Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina, NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Nicole Mann as commander, the mission set forth to conduct scientific feats that would benefit all nations. From testing hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to grow plants without using soil to releasing Uganda and Zimbabwe’s first satellites to reinstalling the station’s bioprinting facility as a stepping stone to manufacturing whole human organs in space, the experiments done by the international crew transcend the boundaries of science and provide the world with hope for a brighter and more collaborative future. And leading the way to this new horizon is a Native woman determined to honor her heritage.
To learn more about some of the Native American pioneers and history makers, head over here.