Petaluma’s Nicole Mann makes history as first Native American woman in space

Petaluma-born Nicole Mann is commander of the next mission to the International Space Station.|

A Petaluma-born astronaut made her debut launch into space Wednesday, making her the first Native American woman to do so.

Nicole Aunapu Mann and her crew with NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission launched to the International Space Station at noon EDT on Wednesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The 45-year-old Mann, a decorated pilot with combat experience, is commander aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on its mission to the space station, where she and the crew are scheduled to stay for five months.

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NASA broadcast the launch live on its website, NASA Television and on the agency’s app. Space fans could also watch it live on Facebook.

“Awesome!” Mann said as they reached orbit, as reported in an Associated Press story about the launch. “That was a smooth ride uphill. You’ve got three rookies who are pretty happy to be floating in space right now.”

Mann, who was selected for a flight by NASA in June 2013, brings with her a wide history of experience. She was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1999, and has clocked more than 2,500 flight hours in 25 types of aircraft, 200 carrier arrestments — the sudden deceleration when planes are landed on aircraft carriers — and 47 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an interview with the Marine Corps Times before the launch, Mann said her military training gave her the physical and mental discipline “that’s really prepared me for all this training that I have at NASA and preparing for a flight into space.”

After joining NASA, Mann served as the T-38 Safety and Training Officer and as the assistant to the chief astronaut for exploration, where she led the astronaut corps in the development of the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System and Exploration Ground Systems for missions to the moon, according to the NASA website.

Mann has earned multiple awards throughout her career, including an induction into the Academic All-American Hall of Fame, at least a half dozen medals from her military career and more.

Mann was born in Petaluma, later moved to Penngrove, and attended Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park. She now resides in Houston with her husband and son.

(Teachers, former classmates “very proud” of Nicole Mann)

A Native American, she is a member of the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes. With her Wednesday launch she became the first Native American woman to go to space with NASA.

Mann was previously scheduled to make her record-setting launch into space with the first Boeing Starliner test flight crew, but was reassigned to the SpaceX Crew-5 mission in October 2021.

Prior to that mission she spoke with schoolchildren in Rohnert Park, telling them when astronauts walk on the moon “their footprints will stay there forever because there’s no wind on the moon.”

The talk was so inspiring for the youngsters that one kindergarten teacher said afterwards, “We’re going to have a lot of students interested in being astronauts.”

In addition to Mann, the mission launch Wednesday, which had been delayed by Hurricane Ian, included pilot Josh Cassada, mission specialist Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at amelia.parreira@arguscourier.com or 707-521-5208.

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