Astronaut Nicole Mann was named USA TODAY’s Women of the Year
Col. Nicole Aunapu Mann is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, recognizing women who have made a significant impact in their communities and across the country. Meet this year’s honorees at womenoftheyear.usatoday.com.
If there’s one thing NASA astronaut Col. Nicole Mann would say to her younger self, it would be, “Hold on, kid. You’re doing fine.”
There’s a lot of pressures growing up, recalls NASA’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission commander and the agency’s first Native American woman in space. She tried to do her best and make the right decisions, but there were periods of self-doubt.
To this girl, she would say that it’s okay to accept things you might fail at because that’s how you learn to overcome adversity. Then the hard work pays off.
She started out with soccer, which she played from elementary school through the US Naval Academy. Her parents, Howard and Victoria, drove her to games across California from their home about an hour north of San Francisco. Her father, a retired auto mechanic, and her mother, a former nail salon owner, always encouraged her and are her “sounding board” to this day, she says.
She was eventually recruited to the US Naval Academy, where she was known for a work ethic that was “extraordinary,” as her trainer there put it. Then it was off to Stanford, where she earned a Masters in Mechanical Engineering with a specialization in Fluid Mechanics.
She next became a Colonel in the US Marine Corps and test pilot for the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet, serving twice in Iraq and Afghanistan. From there, she received the call sign “Duke,” which NASA’s Houston Command Center used to refer to her when she spoke to USA TODAY from the International Space Station.
Mann is registered with the Wailacki of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of California. On her mission to the station, she carried a dream catcher that her mother had given her as a reminder of her family and community.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Col. Nicole Mann was named one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year
Will you make me pick just one? There are so many that live up here. On board we are working on over 250 scientific studies. This is a floating microgravity laboratory, from growing dwarf tomatoes to 3D printing human cells in space. It is incredible to be a part of and to live and operate this amazing machine.
I would just tell my younger self that it’s all worth it. The hard work pays off. It’s okay if you struggle at times and things are challenging – they’re meant to be challenging. But in the end you will look back and be very proud.
There were certainly setbacks and there were certainly times when I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted to. But I really look at these experiences as opportunities that have helped me grow as a person.
The more able you are to simply learn from your past and then apply it to the future, the more successful you will be.
Growing up I worked hard to become a Navy, fighter pilot, engineer and astronaut. Not to be a Marine or a Native American engineer. But as I got older and opened my perspective just from me, I realized how important it is that we acknowledge diversity and how important it is to reach out to the younger generation. The harsh reality is that we still live in a world where there are barriers and inequalities that stifle progress. So it’s important that we communicate specifically with the younger generation, that we tell our stories and hopefully let them be part of our journey.
Hopefully I can help inspire this younger generation.
The harsh reality is that we still live in a world where there are barriers and inequalities that stifle progress. So it’s important that we communicate specifically with the younger generation, that we tell our stories and hopefully let them be part of our journey.
I have a 10 year old son and we talk a lot about what I do and what it means to go on this mission. Sometimes I have to spend a lot of time away from home. So let’s talk about that balance between what I do for a living but how much I love my family and my son and how important it is to me to be there for them.
Just before launch we were hanging out at Kennedy Space Center and he came up to me and said, “Mom, you know, I’m really going to miss you when you’re gone, but I want you to know that I understand what you do.” what you do is really important, for space exploration and for all people on earth.” He said to me, “Mom, I want you to know it’s okay and I’m really proud of you.” That totally made me cry.
It’s a proud moment because you’re trying to teach your kids, trying to teach them the importance of being a part of something bigger than yourself and having that global perspective.
This selfless gesture on his part means a lot. It means he’s taking steps in the right direction, and it means my husband and I are doing a good job.
CRAIG BAILEY, FL TODAY/USA TODAY NETWORK; NASA
It’s not afraid to fail. That doesn’t mean being a daredevil and risking unnecessary things, it means signing up for this AP calculus course if you’re not sure you can hack it. It means studying extra hard and pushing yourself to qualify to fly jets in flight school when you know the numbers and odds might be against you. It means applying to be an astronaut, although again remember that the chances are very slim and you may have difficulties. You may stumble and you may have setbacks along the way, but don’t let that fear hold you back. To me that is real courage.
NASA astronaut Col. Nicole Mann is a national recipient of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year.
I have to go back to my parents, mom and dad who taught me, at a very young age, this work ethic and this ability to really dream and strive to achieve amazing things in life. I look at everything they have done in their lives, how hard they have worked, how much they have sacrificed to give my sister and I every opportunity when we were young so that we could find our passions in life. And I still look back on them today. When I’m fighting, they’re the best sounding board.
The first Native American woman in space, Nicole Mann, hopes to inspire Indigenous youth
Anthony Jackson, USA TODAY
I had the opportunity to do two spacewalks while here onboard the space station. There was this one moment when I was literally hanging out at the very end of the space station running some cables. I looked down just as the sun orbited planet Earth. It was just an incredibly beautiful moment to see all the people that now live on this beautiful planet. It made me curious about the future, about the Artemis mission to the moon and eventually our mission to Mars. I think we are seeing all of humanity working together to achieve these lofty goals. This gives me a lot of hope and inspiration.
Published March 21, 2023 at 9:10 am UTC
Updated March 21, 2023 at 9:10 am UTC