Epps said she has also been learning to speak Russian for about seven years, including a five-week trip to Moscow and another language class there. She said learning the language isn’t just for flying on the Soyuz and understanding the controls on it, but also for communicating easily with crewmates. She said she has put in a lot of hard work and training over the last seven years and it has all been for “getting me into space and being a good crewmate.”
Epps said her main duty will be to maintain and update the ISS, along with experiments and studying how to get humans to fly in space longer and away from Earth’s gravitational field. They will also be doing experiments with rodents, genetics, and whatever NASA wants to do at the time.
“As a researcher, I think pushing the boundaries of our knowledge and what we know about space and what we know about the human body and living in space … that is a part of human nature and the human exploration spirit to want to go beyond what we already know and try to find out new and innovative things,” Epps said.
On top of the variety of research and duties she will be responsible for on the ISS, Epps said she’s looking forward to a rare opportunity: the humbling experience of seeing the planet we live on from a new angle.
“We see everything from telescopes and other views, but being on the space station gives you the rare opportunity to look at Earth from a different perspective,” Epps said. “A lot of people who come back talk about how their life perspective changes, too because you see the Earth as a whole and you realize that one of the big things is that there’s only the human race, there’s not a race on this continent or a race on another continent, but it’s just the human race.”
Out of the 200 people who have been on the International Space Station in its entire 17 years, Epps will only be the 13th woman and the first African American. According to Epps, NASA is improving their diversity and on a good track to increase those numbers, but in a world with a current lack of diverse representation, Epps understands just how far her hard work and success will go toward inspiring people.
“I realize the importance of it every day, especially with some of the comments I’ve gotten back from young women,” Epps said. “I think it’s very important for some women to have a role model that looks like them, so having someone that they can see and touch and say ‘hey if she’s doing that, I can do this, too.’
“I think it will go a long way for young people to see that if I’m doing these things, there’s no reason, absolutely no reason, they can’t get out and contribute and be a part of this as well.”