NASA bumps astronaut off June spaceflight in rare move

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NASA has removed American astronaut Jeanette Epps from the roster of crew members leaving for the next mission to the International Space Station, just months prior to launch.

It looks like NASA's Jeanette Epps won't be joining the International Space Station crew, after all.

She would have flown on board a Russian Soyuz flight in June yet is being supplanted by another space traveler.

"A number of factors are considered when making flight assignments; these decisions are personnel matters, for which NASA doesn't provide information", United States space agency spokeswoman Brandi Dean said in an email to AFP on Friday. The seasoned aerospace engineer was on track to launch as part of Expedition 56/57 this summer. Since completing her training she's worked on various NASA operations and further training while awaiting mission assignment.

Six other African-American astronauts have traveled to the space station, but those were shorter missions during the space shuttle era when the ISS was being assembled.

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NASA announced some changes to the space station missions and the flight assignments for 2018 on Thursday.

Epps got a doctorate in aerospace engineering in 2000, worked in a lab and was later recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency, which sent her on deployments to Iraq.

While NASA has not given an explanation, it said that Epps would "return to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to assume duties in the Astronaut Office".

Her substitution, Serena Auñón-Chancellor, is a restorative specialist from Fort Collins, Colorado. Both were chosen as astronauts in 2009.