SpaceX is scheduled to launch its sixth crewed space mission to the International Space Station on Wednesday. On board and heading the expedition as mission commander will be Nicole Mann — the first Native American woman to go to space.
She's a Marine Corps pilot and NASA astronaut, as well as a member of the Wailacki tribe of the Round Valley Indian Tribes. Her milestone moment comes 20 years after John Herrington became the first Native American man to walk in space, in 2002.
Mann's Crew-5 mission aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Also on board will be Josh Cassada, Anna Kikina and Koichi Wakata. All four will travel to the International Space Station for a six-month mission, during which they plan to conduct more than 200 experiments, which will include spacewalks and 3D-printing human tissue.
Mann detailed some of the crew's plans to NPR's All Things Considered this past summer.
She said she hoped her trip to space can encourage younger generations.
"These young women, maybe Natives, maybe people from different backgrounds that realize that they have these opportunities and potentially these barriers that used to be there are starting to be broken down," she said. "And so hopefully that will inspire that younger generation."
Mann, who is originally from California, plans to take some items from home with her on her long journey.
"I do have some personal mementos, you know, jewelry charms that I plan to bring. And then I do have this dream catcher that my mother gave me long ago," she said. "And that's always just, you know, a little bit, a piece, a memory, I think, of my family back home. And that's something that I'll keep with me in my crew quarters while I'm on board [the] space station."
As a kid, she said, she never really thought that becoming an astronaut was one of her goals. Only after joining the Marine Corps and flying F/A-18s did NASA become a possibility to her.
She has a message to those coming in behind her: "Never discount yourself."
"If you don't go after a dream or a goal and if you don't try, you're never going to make it. You know, pursue that topic in school, ask for help, meet people that have done that job to learn more about it. You'll grow so much as a child into an adult, and your interests will vary quite a bit," she said. "And so it's exciting to take this opportunity to just chase down all of those dreams and never discount yourself."