Rising up in Syracuse, New York, because the youngest of seven kids, Jeanette Epps dreamed of going to area, identical to her hero on TV’s Physician Who. (The present instilled a lifelong curiosity in math and science.) When her older brother got here house from school and, after glancing at her fourth-grade report card, prompt that she might change into an aerospace engineer, the concept caught. However the path to Houston wasn’t all the time clear. Right here’s how Epps conquered her fears and fought her option to NASA.
Work for what you need
After highschool, Epps attended Le Moyne Faculty, in Syracuse, majoring in physics as a result of the varsity didn’t have an engineering program. “I wished to go to the College of Maryland [for graduate school] as a result of they’ve an incredible aerospace engineering program,” she says. “I stored calling the chair of the division attempting to influence him.” Finally, she satisfied him to let her right into a grasp’s program, which paved the best way for her doctorate. After incomes her PhD in aerospace engineering, Epps labored for 2 years as a researcher at Ford, earlier than being recruited by the CIA as an analyst within the weapons nonproliferation group, the place she studied plane from different international locations. She additionally volunteered to do two excursions in Iraq. Whereas being an astronaut appeared like an inconceivable pipe dream to her as a baby, she realized that the technical expertise she bought at Ford mixed with her talents as an operator beneath intense strain, which she honed on the CIA, would possibly make her a aggressive candidate. After speaking to her friends, she determined to take the leap. “I’m not afraid to ask individuals, ‘What can I do to get the place I wish to be?’ I used to be 38 and I assumed it could be my final likelihood to use for my dream job.”
Depend on your pals for assist
After making use of to be an astronaut training candidate at NASA in 2008 and going by a number of interviews (in addition to medical, bodily, and psychiatric evaluations), Epps was chosen from a pool of greater than 3,500 candidates. Then got here the onerous half: making it by two years of astronaut training, which entails intensive Russian classes, robotics lessons, and underwater space-walk simulations. “They name you an ‘ass-can’ while you’re an astronaut candidate, and you need to work to eliminate that designation,” she says. Lastly, in 2017, she was provided a spot on the Worldwide House Station as a flight engineer. Just a few months later, she was changed. Although crew adjustments are pretty widespread at NASA, it was robust for her to simply accept. “Understanding why issues are occurring and the motivation [behind decisions] is essential in these moments,” she says. “Being reactionary is rarely good. Being proactive is the way you get by it.” Epps says she leaned on her pals, asking them for constructive criticism and searching for validation to construct herself again up. She’s set to go to area subsequent yr, when she is going to change into the primary Black girl on an ISS long-duration crew.
Give attention to the work
The toughest a part of astronaut training? Getting ready for the grueling area stroll. “You spend six hours underwater finishing troublesome engineering duties. You may get to the purpose the place you’re in calorie deficit and also you’re exhausted,” Epps says. “I’ve spent 439 hours underwater, and I’ve gotten stronger mentally by follow.” To push by, she places all her power into specializing in the mission. “I feel: I don’t wish to break the ISS, and I don’t need my crew to rescue me or put anybody at risk.” Equally, while you’re working in a gaggle setting, Epps says it’s essential to place your ego apart in service of the larger purpose. “I attempt to do my assigned activity and preserve myself secure, then I assist others.” She’s additionally realized how essential it’s to ask for assist out of your colleagues: “Typically you need to do it, and that’s not an indication of weak point.” There’s no place for ego while you’re in area, and the margin for error is infinitesimally small.