International Collaboration in Human Spaceflight: A Conversation with Dr. Jeanette Epps, NASA Astronaut

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BEVERLY KIRK: (In progress) – Initiative here at CSIS. And thank you so much for joining us tonight, both here in the room and online.

We are absolutely honored and delighted to welcome NASA Astronaut Dr. Jeanette Epps for what is sure to be a fabulous conversation about international collaboration in human spaceflight and her training experiences in Russia, Germany, and Japan, among other places. If you look off to the screen over here to my right, your left, you’ll be able to see a rolling – a scrolling number of photos of her as she was doing her training in preparation for becoming an astronaut.

First, a few social media reminders. Be sure to follow us on Twitter; we’re @SmartWomen. And be sure to check out our Smart Women podcast on iTunes and now on Spotify. If you’re live tweeting tonight, and we certainly hope that you are, please throw in the hashtag #CSISLive. Tonight’s event is presented jointly with the CSIS Aerospace Security Project. And be sure to follow them on Twitter @CSISAerospace. And if you’re watching online, you can submit questions tonight through the website, and just add /questions and you’ll be able to submit a question here for Dr. Epps.

Now, if a fire alarm or anything should go off here in the room tonight, follow my instructions, and we’ll leave out of the front of the building and meet up over at National Geographic. Our Smart Women, Smart Power – (laughter) – but of course nothing’s going to happen, so you don’t need to worry about that.

Our Smart Women, Smart Power Series would not be possible without the fabulous support of Citi. Thank you very much for helping us amplify the voices of women who are in foreign policy, national security, and international business and development.

Please welcome to the stage Kristin Solheim. She is director of federal government affairs at Citi. Kristin?

KRISTIN SOLHEIM: Thanks, Bev. It’s great to be here. Thanks for – thanks for taking time to be with us tonight for another great edition of Smart Women, Smart Power.

Citi’s proud to sponsor these events that bring together women leaders in foreign policy, national security, and the business community to convene a dialogue covering just a wealth of topics. At Citi we’re present in more than a hundred countries, and our unique global footprint offers a diverse perspective on challenges and opportunities in myriad economic and political climates all around the world and in the United States. We can confront these challenges daily in our mission to provide financial services that enable growth and economic progress.

While Citi has a presence in almost – almost everywhere around the world and we usually try to make a connection to our speaker’s region of expertise, I must confess it was a little harder with an astronaut. We don’t have any branches in space just yet. (Laughter.)

But Dr. Epps certainly embodies everything that the Smart Power – Smart Series stands for, and we couldn’t be more excited to hear about your journey and your fascinating career. So thanks for being with us, and back to you.

MS. KIRK: Thank you, Kristin.

And I want to bring up Todd Harrison. He’s a senior fellow and director of the CSIS Aerospace Security Project, and he’s going to introduce our guest. Todd?

TODD HARRISON: Thank you, Bev.

And it’s my real pleasure here to introduce our featured guest this evening, Dr. Jeanette Epps. Dr. Epps was selected as part of NASA’s 20 th astronaut class in 2009. She currently serves in the International Space Station Operations Branch in Houston and works on issues in support of space station crews.

Dr. Epps earned her Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland in 2000. And following graduate school, she spent two years working at Ford Motor Company. Dr. Epps then spent the next seven years at the CIA as a technical intelligence officer. And I tried to find any details on what she did while at the CIA – (laughter) – and I came up short. I guess that’s by design.

And it’s also my pleasure to introduce our moderator for the evening, CSIS Senior Associate Nina Easton, who is also chair of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International Summit and the co-chair of the Fortune Global Forum.

So, again, thank you all for joining us this evening. We like to think of this as Smart Women in Space, an offshoot of Smart Women. But, again, thank you all for joining us, and please join me in welcoming Dr. Epps and Nina Easton. (Applause.)

NINA EASTON: So thank you all for being here. You know, this is a – we know this is the Smart Women, Smart Power Series, but today we’re going to have a little bit of also an offshoot of that: Smart Girls, Smart Power. We’ve got fifth graders from Stone Ridge right here, including my daughter. And that’s all by way of saying we’re going to be talking about high-level stuff; a few times I’ll go a little bit more on their level because we really are – in this program we’re all about inspiring women and girls to do their best, to take tough career paths, especially in science and national security and global issues.

So thank you so much for being here.

JEANETTE J. EPPS: Oh, it’s my pleasure, definitely.

MS. EASTON: May I call you Jeanette?

MS. EPPS: Of course. Of course, yes.

MS. EASTON: OK, Jeanette. Here we go.

So you grew up in Syracuse, New York, and you were one of seven children –

MS. EPPS: Yes.

MS. EASTON: – with a divorced mom.

MS. EPPS: Yes.

MS. EASTON: She did it all by herself. How was that?

MS. EPPS: Well, I mean, as it sounds, it was tough. But she was fortunate that Janet and I – I have a twin sister, Janet, and she –

MS. EASTON: Who does not look like her.

MS. EPPS: No. We’re fraternal twins.

MS. EASTON: We established that. You’re fraternal.

MS. EPPS: And we were – we were pretty obedient, partly because we saw what happened to our older brothers and sisters when they didn’t bring home good grades and, you know, when they misbehaved. So my mom really kind of poured herself into Janet and I, being the last two kids, and she encouraged everything we wanted to do. She was a high school graduate and that was it. She really didn’t understand what Janet and I wanted to do. We were kind of oddballs to her, but she never said we couldn’t do what we wanted to do.

MS. EASTON: How were you oddballs, just because you were so studious, or?

MS. EPPS: We were studious, but I wanted to be an engineer. You know, I remember being a kid and saying, well, you know, I’ll become an aerospace engineer. She’s like – she did not know what that was. I didn’t know either at nine years old. But she said –

MS. EASTON: Sounded good.

MS. EPPS: Sounded great. And she’s like, OK.

And Janet went into chemistry and molecular cell biology. And, you know, my mom said, OK, great, and we’ll get there. She didn’t quite know how we’d get there, but –

MS. EASTON: That is so impressive.

MS. EPPS: Well, we had a community that really helped out. You know, my undergrad was a great school. They really supported Janet and I, and we, you know, graduated from there in four years and then ended up going to the University of Maryland. So we had a great community in Syracuse that really helped us get through.

MS. EASTON: So let’s talk about your interest in space. It also began as a young girl, nine-ish, I believe, like these girls sitting right here.

MS. EPPS: Exactly.

MS. EASTON: You know, when I was that – I’m a little older, so when I – when I was that age, it was the time when we had men – male astronauts on the Moon. They were arriving on the Moon; 12 astronauts between 1969 and 1972, I believe it was, actually walked on the Moon. In your era, wasn’t Sally Ride kind of coming along right about then, first woman astronaut?

MS. EPPS: It was.

MS. EASTON: Sort of tell us about your interest in space and how she figured into it.

MS. EPPS: Well, it was weird because I really didn’t have a lot of knowledge about space. And what happened was my brother came home from college and, you know, my twin sister and I, we were a little – we wanted to make sure he knew that we got really good grades in school. And so he looked at our report cards and he said, wow, this is great; you know, maybe you can become an astronaut or, you know, maybe an aerospace engineer or something. And, you know, Janet didn’t want to become an engineer or anything like that. And I was the one that said, well, you know, they’ll probably never pick me for an astronaut, but I can definitely become an aerospace engineer. And so that’s kind of how this whole thing got started.

But even then, you know, in aerospace you start thinking about all these things that you see in the sky. You know, you see the stars. You see the planes. You see all these different things flying. And aerospace is so comprehensive. There are so many things: helicopters, there’s UAVs now, there’s airplanes, there’s shuttles, there’s rockets. And so aerospace started to really interest me at that age, so.

MS. EASTON: But what about it? Was it the how to make things fly? Or was it space itself?

MS. EPPS: I think with most girls and most boys there’s a curiosity about, well, how does that work? It looks so interesting. Well, how does that work? And how can I work on that? How can I make it better? How can I improve that? How can I be involved in that? And I think as a 9-year-old, just thinking of how I can contribute and be a part of that was the big thing for me.

Because Janet and I, we were doing things like – we were doing well in mathematics, so we really didn’t have an idea of what engineering would be. And Janet really didn’t know, OK, chemistry, biology; you know, she started looking at plants and things like that, and so it kind of snowballed into going into molecular cell biology. And so I think it was more of just a curiosity.

And I think girls – like, I even see it in my 8-year-old niece. There’s a certain amount of curiosity that they want to know everything and they just want to figure it out. And I –

MS. EASTON: So that’s a good thing and they should pull on that string.

MS. EPPS: Oh, definitely. And I think starting at – it really does start around the age of nine, when you start planting those seeds in their brain of, you know, well, you know you can become this, or you may want to look into this, or you may want to think about that. And I do know, like, my brother saying those words to me stuck with me all those years.

And so when I went to undergrad, I had to go into physics because I went to a small Jesuit school. But then I left there in four years and I said, no, I’m definitely going into aerospace. And I – and it just stuck with me from – you know, I couldn’t shake it. So no matter what I did – I even tried to do an internship in pathology when I was in – at LeMoyne College. And, you know, one of the professors there, one of the doctors, he was doing autopsies. I was 17 at the time, and he invited me in to kind of watch one of these. And so I watched the autopsy, and after I came out of there I was definitely sure that I was going into engineering and not pathology, none of that. (Laughter.) I didn’t want any part of it.

MS. EASTON: So can you explain, like, what it is about engineering that you love?

MS. EPPS: OK. So there’s so many cool things about engineering. First, you get to solve problems. You get to create things. You get to see the end product of – like, if you design an airplane and then you see it fly, that is – to me is gratifying because you were a part of that and you contributed to making it better. Like, even working at Ford Motor Company when we were designing different actuators to reduce vibrations into the car. And the experiments that we did mounting these actuators on the arm – the control arm and then seeing it actually work, that you actually reduced the vibrations in the car. And so, to me, creating and making things better is what I enjoy a lot.

MS. EASTON: So then you took this aeronautical engineering degree into the CIA, and as we just learned you haven’t been very open about what exactly you did in Iraq – (laughter) – but I’m going to try. (Laughs.) What did you do?

MS. EPPS: Well, so I think – (laughter) – well, I think everything is kind of a complete story in the sense that, you know, working at Ford Motor Company and even going through graduate school as a scientist, you work so hard in a lab and you’re doing those things, your kind of head’s down. And so I never thought that, you know, I would ever be selected as an astronaut, even though in graduate school I had so many friends applying. I even had one friend who actually did get in.

But then going to the CIA you kind of learn that there is another side to being a scientist, and it’s an operational side. And I think that’s what an astronaut is all about. You’re very technical, but then when you go into space you are the hands and the eyes of every scientist that has a project onboard the space station, and so you’re more operational. But the operational aspect also comes from just getting to the space station and flying on the Soyuz and all the things that you have to learn in order to get there.

MS. EASTON: So she’s very good at not answering it once again. (Laughter.) You’re a good CIA agent. (Laughter.) It’s OK.

MS. EPPS: So everything is about being a scientist and solving problems.


MS. EPPS: Yes. (Laughs.)

MS. EASTON: So then you – let’s move on to NASA. And by the way, this is – our great think tank here offered up some numbers. There are 500 astronauts worldwide. Of them, 50 are women, and most of them are American. And so that’s kind of an interesting number. And you were chosen. Tell us about being chosen to become an astronaut.

MS. EPPS: Well, it’s interesting because I had applied because I felt like I was getting older and I would never have another chance to apply. And so I was 38 at the time and my friend Leland Melvin, who was in the Astronaut Corps, called and said, hey, we’re accepting applications for the Astronaut Corps and you should think about applying this year. And I kind of thought about it, and it took me about two months to think about it, and I finally said, well, you know, I may as well at least give it one shot. And so my advice to everyone, whoever even ever thought about applying to the Astronaut Corps, I say just do it. And you can’t play if you don’t apply and you don’t – you don’t at least play in the game. And I was quite shocked to find out that I was selected that time. I thought I would –

MS. EASTON: And you were one of 14 members in the 20th NASA class.

MS. EPPS: That’s affirmative, yep.

MS. EASTON: That’s affirmative. Is that – (laughter) –

MS. EPPS: No, that’s correct. (Laughter.)

MS. EASTON: Astronaut-speak. That’s great. That’s quite an honor.

MS. EPPS: It was. It’s definitely quite an honor. And at the time when I received the call, I mean, it was – it was kind of emotional. Of course, you know, I was a little choked up, and I said yes. But afterwards it was – it was quite emotional because I went – my mother was in the hospital at the time and I went and told her, and the fact that she was so happy for me was – that kind of broke the well, and you know, I just kind of started gushing there because she thought –

MS. EASTON: Her pride must have been enormous.

MS. EPPS: Oh, it was. And, you know, the fact that she hated everything that I did before and she thought it was very dangerous, and she knew that this would be just as bad but she was very happy – (laughter) – at that point. So she was extremely glad that I got in.

MS. EASTON: It’s hard not to be proud if your kid’s an astronaut, right?

MS. EPPS: Yes.

MS. EASTON: And by the way, speaking of which, there are photos. You can see her in action since you didn’t wear your –

MS. EPPS: With my mom.

MS. EASTON: Is your mom in them?

MS. EPPS: Oh, there’s – we have one picture with my mom in there, yeah.

MS. EASTON: OK. I’ll watch for it and point it out when it comes up. You didn’t wear your astronaut suit tonight.

MS. EPPS: No. (Laughter.)

MS. EASTON: Oh well.

MS. EPPS: You guys didn’t ask, so. (Laughter.)

MS. EASTON: We should have. We should have done it.

MS. EPPS: Next time.

MS. EASTON: So describe your training. So the training you were – the idea was, when you joined the NASA class, that it would be towards going to the space station? Was that –

MS. EPPS: Exactly.

MS. EASTON: OK. So describe that.

MS. EPPS: Well, we knew that the space shuttle would be retired around 2011, so we knew that my class would not fly on the shuttle. We were slated to fly on the Soyuz. And so that meant when we came in we had to do the Russian language. We had to –

MS. EASTON: And so just to back up a second for general audience folks, so the Soyuz now – since the space shuttle’s been retired, the Soyuz is the only – which is Russian-built –

MS. EPPS: Exactly.

MS. EASTON: – is the only way to get humans to the space station and back.

MS. EPPS: That’s correct, yeah.

MS. EASTON: So that requires you to go to –

MS. EPPS: Star City, Russia.

MS. EASTON: Star City, Russia, in Kazakhstan.

MS. EPPS: Yes.

MS. EASTON: So what is that like?

MS. EPPS: Well, that’s – initially it was a little daunting because we were taking classes, it’s all in Russian. We do have an interpreter there. But our exams are such that, you know, we’re sitting in front of the room like this and we have about – a panel of people who quiz you on everything that you’re supposed to know, be it on the Russian segment, be it on the Soyuz, the navigation system, the thermal control system. And they really quiz you. And so it was – it was quite daunting. But, you know, after a while you kind of figure out that the Russians, I think they – the way the exams are conducted, they’re very fair but they’re very difficult. And so as long as you do your work, they – you know, you have no problem with the exams because they give you all the data ahead of time. You just have to study the information and answer. And once you get through that kind of phase, they kind of develop a – you kind of develop a friendship with them. They know you. They know how well you’ll do. They kind of expect things of you in that sense.

MS. EASTON: So what about the other parts of the training? Describe the physical – the difficult stuff.

MS. EPPS: OK. Yeah, like the water survival.

MS. EASTON: OK. Let’s describe that.

MS. EPPS: The water survival is quite interesting because what they do is they put you in the Sokol suit, which is their version of the pumpkin suit that we wear – the orange suit that you see our astronauts wear. They put you in your suit, you put on your helmet, and you get inside one of their Soyuz modules and it’s just the descent module. And it was me, our commander, and Alex Gerst. Alex Gerst is 6’2” and Aleksandr Samokutyayev is probably about 6’1”. So it’s a very small compartment inside the Soyuz – extremely small. They close the hatch and you basically – they put you in the water and what they want to simulate is a water landing during the cold. And so what you have to do while you’re in there is you have to take off your Sokol suit and put on all of your winter clothes and then put on a waterproof suit and –

MS. EASTON: Oh, geez. All three of you, like, crammed together. OK.

MS. EPPS: All three of us crammed together. So you have to do it one at a time.


MS. EPPS: And there’s no cooling. So our body temperatures get up to about 101 as we’re doing this.

MS. EASTON: Oh, wow.

MS. EPPS: Yes, because it’s just so hot inside the Soyuz itself.


MS. EPPS: And so because of that, that’s why a lot of people don’t like it and then you’re on the water and you’re kind of moving around a little bit.

MS. EASTON: So how did you – and when you’re in that kind of situation, how do you muster the wherewithal to get through it and to make it happen?

MS. EPPS: Well, I think we all knew what was supposed to happen. Alex – both Alex and Sasha had gone through this before. I was the new person, and they both really kind of rallied around me and got me through it as well because it’s really hot and it’s not – it’s not anything that’s so difficult. You just become so exhausted from the heat that you have to basically work, work, work, work, take a break, then work, work, work, take a break, work, work, work, take a break. And Sasha kind of got me through that cadence of work hard, work hard, work hard, OK, take a short break, and then once we were all suited up we have to open the hatch and then we climb out of the Soyuz.

MS. EASTON: And how was that?

MS. EPPS: Oh, you basically fall backwards, you blow up your suit, and you’re cool. You’re finally – you’re just happy at that point.

MS. EASTON: You’re done. (Laughter.)

MS. EPPS: Yeah, you’re just happy.

MS. EASTON: And how does – how long does this whole exercise last?

MS. EPPS: Oh, it’s about two and a half hours.

MS. EASTON: Oh, wow.

MS. EPPS: Yes, because we each have to change out of our Sokol suit.

MS. EASTON: Is that – what’s that? What –

MS. EPPS: Oh, that’s actually the underwater experiment that NASA does and that’s the NEEMO experiment. It’s called the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, and you live underwater in a habitat for about – in my group we stayed underwater for about nine days. So you do practice –

MS. EASTON: You stayed underwater for nine days?

MS. EPPS: Yes, in a little module, a little habitat that’s similar to what you would see on a space station, about the same size, with six people. There were six of us. It was me and five guys. Yeah, Jeanette – it was not fun.

MS. EASTON: So how big was it, like, from this – use this stage as an example.

MS. EPPS: OK. So it was probably maybe two more platforms longer than this. But that was it, and we had a wet room where you have to change out into your scuba gear. You come in and then you have the kitchen and sort of the living compartment and then we have the bunk beds in the last part of the compartment.

MS. EASTON: And then were you doing, like, experiments all day? What are you –

MS. EPPS: We were.


MS. EPPS: We were doing practice missions from the habitat to simulate if we landed on an asteroid – how would we extract samples from an asteroid. So we have to set up certain type of equipment that was developed to simulate how we would extract core samples from –

MS. EASTON: An asteroid?

MS. EPPS: Yes.

MS. EASTON: That’s pretty amazing. OK.

MS. EPPS: Yeah. And so we had the Mark V helmet on and the wetsuit and we kind of simulate space walks on the bottom of the ocean, and we were only about 72 feet on the bottom and we lived at about 50 feet. So our compartment was on a little platform 50 feet below the surface and then you leave that and you’re about 72 feet below the surface.

MS. EASTON: Wow. So what was – what was the hardest training of all?

MS. EPPS: So I’d have to say, for me, you know, as an ASCAN, I think the hardest training was the neutral buoyancy lab where you have to do the practice spacewalks and that’s partly because it’s very –

MS. EASTON: You practice spacewalks?

MS. EPPS: Yes.

MS. EASTON: So you’re practicing getting out of a vehicle and actually walking in space –

MS. EPPS: Exactly.

MS. EASTON: – just to make it clear to everybody. OK.

MS. EPPS: And what we do at Johnson Space Flight Center is we simulate that using a huge pool. The pool is about a hundred feet wide, 200 feet long, and 40 feet deep, and we have a mockup of the main truss of the space station. And so we don the space suit, which is about 300 pounds, and we have a bunch of divers that –

MS. EASTON: The space suit itself is 300 pounds?

MS. EPPS: Yes.


MS. EPPS: And so they have to make it neutrally buoyant, which simulates zero gravity.

MS. EASTON: It’s the weight of a man and a half, basically? I mean, just –

MS. EPPS: Yes, exactly.


MS. EPPS: But what they do is they make you neutrally buoyant so you shouldn’t ever really feel the 300 pounds. As the suit starts taking on water, they kind of change your way out a little bit to make you – to get you back to neutral buoyancy.

MS. EASTON: There’s your mom, by the way.

MS. EPPS: Yes. That’s – that was my mom. Yes.

MS. EASTON: OK. Sorry. Go ahead. Yeah.

MS. EPPS: And so we do – we get into the suit. They lower us into the water and we have a bunch of divers that help us. But we do that for about six hours. You’re in the suit for six hours, and it’s very physical and it becomes – because it exhausts you, it becomes very mental as well. So you have to make it through the – to the end of the six hours, and after doing it so many years you kind of get used to the six hours in the suit under water and you only have 32 ounces of water and you have a MAG, and I always – I love telling the story because kids get a kick out of it.

Do you know what a MAG is? Does anyone know what a MAG is? You guys can’t guess? So we wear it under the spacesuit. It’s a maximum absorbency garment. So it’s a diaper. (Laughter.) Don’t tell anyone. So but you do that because you’re in the water for six hours and you have 32 ounces of water and that’s it, and you have to – you know, because there’s so many resources that are used during these events you have to get as much done –

MS. EASTON: So you’re basically wearing a diaper the whole time if you’re – speaking to them. OK.

MS. EPPS: No, not right now. (Laughter.)

MS. EASTON: Yeah. No. (Laughter.)

MS. EPPS: Yeah. When you’re in the pool, yes. Yeah. So –

MS. EASTON: Yeah. For six hours.

MS. EPPS: Six hours, yes. That’s part of the uniform.


MS. EPPS: So and it’s necessary. So people always ask about the diaper – where does it come from – but that’s where it comes from.

MS. EASTON: Oh, that’s –

MS. EPPS: Yeah.

MS. EASTON: And so what was – you said it – you cited it as the most difficult of your training. Why is that?

MS. EPPS: Yes. Only because it’s very physical because when you’re in the pool and then the suit starts taking on water, you start feeling some of that 300 pounds. So that’s why we do a lot of weightlifting and things like that. But for the endurance we do a lot of cardio work, too. So CrossFit is great. You know, I do a lot of cross training and crab classes and things like that as well. So –

MS. EASTON: So how much – how much workout do you do? Like, how far can you run? How far do you typically run –

MS. EPPS: Well, some people do marathons. I don’t do marathons just yet. I really haven’t signed up to do any of those. But, I mean, on a given day you could do 4 ½ miles and then go do some weightlifting or do pushups and you really have to keep your body in shape and strong enough to do the spacewalk.

MS. EASTON: So in 2017 – last year – you were selected for the International Space Station after how many years of training?

MS. EPPS: And so I had been training since February 2016.

MS. EASTON: So you had some serious training?

MS. EPPS: It’s two years. Yes. Yeah, it’s two years.

MS. EASTON: Yeah, going on for that. You were picked for – well, describe your emotions when you found out that you were going to be chosen.

MS. EPPS: Well, I was in Russia doing language immersion at the time. So I was living in Moscow for five weeks and going through the language immersion and about the fourth week in the chief of the office at that time, Chris Cassidy, sent me an email, because he was on his way to Japan and he thought he’d send me an email before he went over there, and asked if I wanted to have the mission 5657 to the International Space Station. And, of course, when I saw that email I said – you know, I was going to send back a note, oh, no, that’s OK. No. Of course, I was excited – extremely excited, and I thanked Chris and that began a whole new training over in Star City and then in Germany and Japan.

MS. EASTON: And what were you doing in Germany and Japan?

MS. EPPS: Well, one of the things we do is we take all of their classes on the European module that’s aboard the space station called the Columbus and the same for the Japanese module called the JEM, and what we do is we can either train to be a user of their systems and their module, an operator, or a specialist, and what I did was the specialist training you have a lot more – you have about two more weeks of training in Japan. And so for both the Columbus and the Japanese module, I trained to become a specialist on their modules.

MS. EASTON: So you were also making history. You were going to become, believe it or not, the first African American on the space station. There has not been one for long term to stay – an African-American astronaut to stay long term.

MS. EPPS: That’s correct. That’s correct.

MS. EASTON: You were going to be that person.

MS. EPPS: Yes. We’ve had Mae Jemison. We have people like Al Drew, Leland Melvin. They all visited the space station. Well, Mae Jemison didn’t visit the space station but they’ve all been in space, but it was for a short time. And so what I would have done was actually live aboard the space station for about five to six months.

MS. EASTON: And the reason you’re saying would have, for people who don’t know this, is that in early last year you were pulled from a June four months hence launch.

MS. EPPS: That is correct. Yes.

MS. EASTON: And talk about – you know, typically being pulled at that late date would have to be for health reasons, something pretty obvious.

MS. EPPS: Yeah.

MS. EASTON: But that wasn’t the case.

MS. EPPS: No, that was not the case, and so, you know, for reasons that I can’t – I don’t really understand at this point, my management – it was a management decision at the time and, you know, one of the things I can say is that we’re still working through that. There have been several things that have happened on the space station recently so I really haven’t found out much information lately. And so we’re still kind of working through those issues and figuring out what’s going to happen for the future. And at this time I really don’t have a planned mission yet, and we’ll see what happens in the future.

MS. EASTON: And so that created – that generated headlines, I mean –

MS. EPPS: Yes.

MS. EASTON: – and all sorts of questions about whether this was their – race was a motive, whether the Russians had something to do with it. What was your take on all of that?

MS. EPPS: Well, you know, one of the things that I always put there is that my work with the Russians was always very friendly, very warm, going through all of the training to the end, even in Baikonur – all of the things that we did out there, it was phenomenal training. I mean, I can’t say anything negative about the training that I got there.

So I wouldn’t say that the Russians had anything to do with this. I can’t say a hundred percent that no, they didn’t; in my opinion, I don’t think that they did.

Whether race played an issue, I don’t know what’s in the mind of other people, and I can’t say that, oh, definitely, or anything like that. So I’m not quite sure of the reasons myself. I do think – I do see a lot in the media of people speculating but, you know, it is all speculation at this point.

MS. EASTON: And how are you dealing with this internally, emotionally? How are you getting through this?

MS. EPPS: Well, I’ll say that initially it was tough and – because I was in Baikonur when this happened. I was in Star City and then I went on to Baikonur after that. So it was really tough dealing with it at that point because I really didn’t know what happened.

And one of the nice things, though, when I got back was the number of people who came to me, and they actually thought that I was sick or something happened to me. And so that was their first concern, and then, you know, their – not just sympathy, but their desire to help and try to figure out what happened.

It is a really – it was really a bad thing that happened, but the friends that showed up and have really been helping me, it has been tremendous.

MS. EASTON: So what is your – I know you are still in it – you’re not looking back yet – but what’s your – what kind of advice or takeaway do you have when you are dealt such a setback? Your dream was there, you did everything you were supposed to be doing, and then the rug was pulled out from under you. How do you cope?

MS. EPPS: Well, I think I’m talking about it, like even in this environment, and letting little girls know that, hey, you know, things happen, but how you deal with it is important. And going through this doesn’t change the things that I was able to accomplish. It does make me want to coach little girls, especially on, you know, you can go on merit for a long time, but understanding the culture of any organization that you are in is going to come into play at some point, and so trying to figure out how I can contribute and try to help other girls and women not let this happen to them, and what are the things that you can do. And, you know, thinking about the mistakes that I may have made, and how do I mitigate those, and what advice would I give other people going through stuff.

MS. EASTON: What advice would you give to –

MS. EPPS: Well, one of the things – you know, it’s things like that, you know. Make sure you have – you do everything to an excellent level, make sure your merit is very high, but at the same time, understand the culture that you are working in because every culture is different. Going from Ford Motor Company to the CIA to NASA, every culture is very different, and you have to acclimate to that. And if you come in quickly and you don’t understand, you can make mistakes.

But the culture isn’t – it shouldn’t the end all and be all. You have to understand it, though. And that’s one of the big pieces of advice – like my niece is going to school, and she’s wondering why – why is this happening, why is that happening, and you know, helping her to understand that, you know, sometimes people aren’t nice and things don’t go the way you want, but how you handle it is going to be the most important thing.

MS. EASTON: And you still hope to do – to be deployed?

MS. EPPS: I am still hoping. I’m back in the corps. Once I return in January – I went back to recertify on the T-38; I had been out of the jet for over 45 days –

MS. EASTON: Tell everybody what a T-38 –

MS. EPPS: Oh, I’m sorry. The T-38 jet is a supersonic trainer jet that the Navy and the Air Force use to train their pilots, and because I’m a back seat, the front-seat pilots help train me to work with them, not just in a high threat environment, but also we use it as crew resource management – so how do we work together as a crew. All of this should translate to how we work together in space.

MS. EASTON: So just one other question before we go in that a little more broadly about NASA. What you do is extremely dangerous –

MS. EPPS: Yes.

MS. EASTON: – let’s be real. I mean, people have been killed and will be killed in manned space travel.

MS. EPPS: Yes, I agree.

MS. EASTON: How do you deal with that risk?

MS. EPPS: Well, I think understanding what you are getting into first of most importance. I mean, sometimes you can see people walk into things and totally not understand what they are getting into – but understanding the risk and then mitigating that through training and understanding.

One of the things we recently had happened was depressurization of the space station, and that’s one of the emergency procedures that we train ad nauseam on how to handle a rapid depress aboard the space station. We train heavily on how to handle a fire aboard the space station. We have ammonia in the U.S. segment, so that can actually enter into the cabin, and because it is anhydrous ammonia, you know, it can be deadly. So we train on what we would do if we had an ammonia leak into the space station. And we train those over and over and over again so it’s muscle memory pretty much once – and if it happens.

And that’s what happened in August. You saw the training snap in, and these guys got to work, and they found the leak, and they isolated it to one of the Soyuz.

MS. EASTON: So speaking of issues, on October 11th, there was the accident – a Soyuz failed to launch – what was it, 2 ½ minutes after liftoff the astronauts basically had to bail. And I have to ask you what it’s like to fall 31 miles after your rocket fails.

MS. EPPS: So I haven’t talked to Nick Hague since he returned from that, but the great thing is that that is another thing that the Russians train you to do ad nauseam, and a lot of our training has to do with going through procedures, but also mainly executing emergency procedures when it’s necessary. So his training snapped in, and they were able to get out of there in time and survive.

But that can happen any time; that’s why we train the way we do. It is a risky job, but I think working at the CIA can be risky, too. (Laughter.) And so any job that you –

MS. EASTON: Do you mean the job that you don’t want to talk about? The one – (laughter) –

MS. EPPS: Or any of these jobs can be risky.

MS. EASTON: (Laughing.) OK.

MS. EPPS: And so you really have to understand what you are getting into, and through understanding and training is how we mitigate the problems and the worry.

MS. EASTON: So I want to pause now and remind everybody that we’d love to take your questions. Write them on cards. We’ll have people picking them up as I continue with some questions, and we also have – you can – if you are tweeting, the hashtag of course is #SmartWomenSmartPower, or @CSISAerospace.

So generally, can you give us your vision of how space travel is going to be in the future – manned and unmanned, Moon and Mars? I mean, what’s going – take us through the next five to ten years.

MS. EPPS: OK, so one of the things is right now we don’t launch from U.S. soil, but hopefully over the next two to three years we’ll launch from the U.S. soil. We’ll have either a Boeing or a SpaceX launching and going only to the space station.

MS. EASTON: And so these are – basically these are private sector solutions to the fact that we lost the shuttle – or the shuttle was –

MS. EPPS: Exactly. You know, we had to do that because we had the Constellation program going as well, and it’s really hard to fund both programs. So we knew that we were going to retire the shuttle and something else bigger was going to come along.


MS. EPPS: And what that is is the Orion program, and so the Orion’s job is to take us to the Moon, and hopefully, in the future, to Mars. But in the meantime we need to develop an engineering test bed to get to Mars. So everything that we do at the Moon – all of the technologies that we develop, all of the things that we find out about the human body and how it survives in lower gravity – everything that we find out radiation-wise as well, all of that information will help get us to Mars.

So we’re planning to have a gateway platform that would go around the Moon, and basically we would launch the Orion from earth on the SLS, which is our – should be our larger than Saturn V rocket to get us to the Moon, dock to the gateway, have astronauts stay there for months maybe. But everything that we would find out from the astronauts working there on the surface and working on the platform, the gateway, would translate to everything that we can do to get to Mars.

MS. EASTON: OK, so tell these guys how long will it take – does it take to get to the Moon and how long does it take to get to Mars.

MS. EPPS: Well, that’s – it depends on the rocket that we have. So right now we have the SLS, and what we’re planning now is a couple of – hopefully we’ll have EM-1. That’s going to be a mission that will go around the Moon, and that should be in 2022. And then shortly after that we should have a manned mission. And by 2025 we’re going to give up the space station, and we’re going to actually stop funding it through federal funds, and hopefully it’ll go commercial. And so once we do that we will – we will just be sending astronauts to the Moon and staying on the Moon.

For getting to Mars, I can’t give you a good idea of how long it would take to get there. It depends on the gravity assist and the alignment to get there, but – and then the propulsion system that we would develop. So right now they’re looking at eight to nine months, but who knows what – if we develop a new propulsion system it may take a shorter time than that.

MS. EASTON: Great.

MS. EPPS: Yes.

MS. EASTON: And I wanted to note that Director Gordon is backstage watching. And for online questions, you can submit your online questions. Just go to

What is – what are your thoughts regarding Space Force? And I picked this. (Laughs.)

MS. EPPS: Well, so from everything that I’ve heard about it, it’s basically going to be like the Space Command, which is in the Air Force. And so there may not be a plus-up of people. Maybe it’s just transferring the Space Command to be the next segment of the military, the Space Force.

So I don’t really have an opinion on it yet. I haven’t seen any real outline/plan for what it would be like, and what they would do, and how they would – would they replace the astronauts? How do we work together to do that? So I don’t know – have a lot of information on that just yet.

MS. EASTON: In general, though, what do you think of the militarization of space?

MS. EPPS: Well, so that is a great question. And you know, one of the questions about denuclearization and putting weapons in space and things like that, I’m not necessarily a big fan of putting weapons in space. That, to me, is – you know, it’s the start of something else. You know, I think denuclearizing it, everyone kinds of stands down. But if you start doing that, everyone’s going to want to have that status symbol of having something in space as well. So militarization of space, I can’t say that I’m for it, and I don’t know what that would look like in the future. Yeah.

MS. EASTON: Great. So here’s a question from the audience: As a – as a woman, where there any special challenges you encountered? And does being a woman give you any superpower/assets as an astronaut or scientist?

MS. EPPS: Well, I would say that most women have a superpower in that they are very resilient and persistent, in being very persistent and going after your goals and asking for opportunities. And that’s the thing, I think, you know, as a female, I think I’ve done an OK job of in asking for opportunities to go do things. And so as I – I think a lot of women have a resiliency as well. So when it gets tough you don’t just give up –

MS. EASTON: Give up.

MS. EPPS: – and go away, you just work harder, and you make sure that you achieve the goal that your colleagues are – whatever goal they’re making, you’re making the same goal.

MS. EASTON: Great. This is a good one: What’s harder to learn, thermodynamics or Russian? (Laughter.)

MS. EPPS: I’d have to say Russian. (Laughter.) I’m still not speaking it fluently, but that’s because I haven’t been over there in about eight months, so.

MS. EASTON: Right.

MS. EPPS: Yeah. You don’t use it, you lose it.

MS. EASTON: How many times did you apply for the Astronaut Corps?

MS. EPPS: Well, I was one of the very lucky ones; I only applied once. But I – my advice to people who haven’t applied and they want to is that you have to go ahead and apply. If you don’t apply, you can’t play in the game. Even if you don’t get that job, it is an experience to at least apply and see what happens. And that’s what I did.

MS. EASTON: So this is one from one of our younger audience members: What do you do in your rocket? And I would probably add to that: What do you do in the space station?

MS. EPPS: Yes. So in the Soyuz I was the left-seat person. So our commander, in the center, he basically had the command of the Soyuz, and whatever he asked me to do that’s what I would do. He’s, monitor the pressure, I would monitor the pressure; open the valve, I would open the valve. So you’re basically following procedures inside the Soyuz.

But when you live on the space station, you are the research scientist for – you’re their hands and their eyes, and so you’re conducting all of their research. One of the other things is that, as a person aboard the space station, you’re an experiment in and of yourself as well, so you’ve got to figure out, you know – there’s a lot of samples taken from you, a lot of blood samples. And they want to look at how your muscles behave in space with training, with a lot of resistive training, so you do quite a few things aboard the space station.

MS. EASTON: So this is from one of our audience members who said: Sorry I had to leave early, but did you know that an African-American engineer was one of the chief designers of the space suit for the first Moon mission?

MS. EPPS: No, I did not know that.

MS. EASTON: And I would read the rest of this, but I can’t read the writing. (Laughter.) But that’s an interesting one.

MS. EPPS: Yeah, that’s an interesting one.

MS. EASTON: We’ll check that out.

MS. EPPS: Yes.

MS. EASTON: Maybe we can Google that, somebody.

How do you feel about investment in commercial spaceflight? And would you like to operate in non-NASA rocket spacecraft?

MS. EPPS: Well, I really like the work that the commercial entities are doing and pushing the envelope and developing new things. So I think it’s a great idea to have commercial involved in anything that we do in space and help keep – one of things is giving opportunities to non-astronauts to fly into space as well. So I think the work that they’re doing is going to go along way, especially once we stop funding the space station around 2025. I think they’ll take it on pretty far.

MS. EASTON: This has a number of questions, I guess – I think also from one of our younger audience members. What was the hardest part about training? We talked a bit about that. Did you meet any good friends while training?

But it’s an interesting question, like, do you – what kind of bond do you create with fellow astronauts during this?

MS. EPPS: Well, it does become difficult to make strong bonds with other astronauts, but you do, you end up making strong –

MS. EASTON: It becomes difficult.

MS. EPPS: Well, only because everyone is off training and everyone is doing their own thing and they have to get, you know, a certain amount of flying in, they have to get a certain amount of Russian in, and a lot of the guys have their families with them in Houston.

And so one of the – one of the guys that I did become close with was Jack Fischer, who recently left and he went to the Space Command in Colorado. He and his wife, we would regularly go to dinner and happy hour and chat. And so you end up – we ended up – we did our training for robotics together as well in Canada. So through all of the training that we ended up doing together, that’s how we became friends. But then there’s other people, like even Sergey Prokopyev, when I would be in Star City and we’re training and living there, he would invite us to different parties and things like that. And so there’s lots of ways to get, you know – especially as a crew, you end up bonding very tightly being in water survival or winter survival, you end up becoming very close. And then even some of the trainers, I’ve become very good friends with a lot of our trainers as well.

MS. EASTON: Because it would seem you would have to have some kind of bond if you’re – particularly when you’re in difficult situations, you need to develop that level of trust –

MS. EPPS: Yes.

MS. EASTON: – and yet, you’re also kind of all on your own training systems. Yeah.

MS. EPPS: Exactly. And that’s how Jack and I became friends, going to Canada together and doing all of our robotic skills together.

MS. EASTON: Do you believe aliens exist? And what is your basis for believing or not believing?

MS. EPPS: Well, when I think about our solar system, we’re one solar system in this huge galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy. But we’re one of billions of galaxies and there’s so many galaxies out there. So I would have to guess that there has to be life somewhere else in one of these other galaxies.

MS. EASTON: Landing on Mars, what would that entail? What would that – what would the atmosphere be like? Again, from one of our younger folks here.

MS. EPPS: Well, it’s going to be different than landing on the Moon because they have one-third the gravity that we have on Earth, so it’s going to be a little bit different.

MS. EASTON: Start with just climate and temperature and –

MS. EPPS: Well, see, that’s the thing, they don’t really have an atmosphere the way we have here on Earth. So we would have to synthesize all of that. So landing on Mars, we would have to be in our suit, we’d have to provide our own pressure, we’d have to provide our own oxygen, we’d have to provide our own carbon dioxide removal system. So it would be like being inside the spacewalk suit, so you really have to be contained inside of this.

And then there’s a lot of dust and the dust can get into different systems and follow them. And so you want to be careful that you don’t destroy your only spaceship, which is your suit, if you’re walking on the surface. So you have to really develop special systems just for landing on the Moon and living there on Mars.

And the same thing for the Moon, though. You have to develop different systems of how we would handle that. So that’s part of the job of going back to the Moon and developing all these CONOPS of how we would, if you had to live on the Moon, how would we – and even just walking on the Moon, how would we do it better than what we did before?

There was a lot of – there’s a thin layer of regolith on the Moon and it’s very – it’s a fine dust. And it gets into all the different systems. And so you want to try to protect your ship, your suit, and the Lunar Module that you’re in. So you – I think what we’re going to end up finding is that we’re going to do things differently than what we did in the early Apollo days. And we’re going to develop – hopefully we can develop better systems and make it –

MS. EASTON: And more permanent systems certainly on the Moon.

MS. EPPS: Yes, exactly, more permanent systems. And even on the Gateway Platform, you know, we do have an issue with radiation, how do we protect from that? So we may have to have different types of suits that would have, you know, a special material that would protect us from radiation.

MS. EASTON: Right.

MS. EPPS: So there’s a lot of things to think about when you start thinking about walking on Mars. You know, I start thinking of the Moon initially of how we’re – how are we going to do that on the Moon, how are we going to do it better than what we did before? What kind of Lunar buggy will we have? You know, the different types of wheels and things that I’ve seen people develop and different rovers that I’ve seen develop, you know, which one will we end up using? And which one will actually be the best? And then we can take that and use it on Mars.

MS. EASTON: What’s the coolest rover you’ve seen?

MS. EPPS: Well, so we’ve had – we’ve had different ones that had a spacesuit attached to the back where you can, from your rover, you can get into a spacesuit and do a spacewalk from that rover. And so that’s one of the – we used it in a program called Desert RATS. So a very nice rover that was developed at Johnson Space Center. I’m not sure if we’d use something like that on the Moon this time, but hopefully we’ll develop systems that will improve our experience there on the Moon the initial time and improve that and then we can use all of those systems for Mars.

MS. EASTON: Does that appeal to you personally?

MS. EPPS: It does. You know, just –

MS. EASTON: Going to the Moon and Mars?

MS. EPPS: Yes, because we, you know, we went to the Moon all of six times. And, you know, what did we find out? You know, it’s kind of like coming to the United States and visiting several places. You know, have we really explored it? Have we really exploited it and know it so well that, you know, we can live there and we can do other things that we – you know, extract resources if we needed to. So I would like to go back and investigate it a little more, try to find out, you know, how did the Moon end up there? What happened to our planet and the Moon? How did it get into that position? What pummeled it? Where did all of those pock marks and all the impact craters on the Moon, where did they come from? So if we can study those impact craters, figure out what hit the Moon, how it go into that position, you know, maybe we can mitigate things that could happen in the future and, you know, help better – help, you know, what’s going on here on Earth as well.

MS. EASTON: I love that. What recommendations would you give to an 11-year-old girl who wishes to become an astronaut for NASA like you?

MS. EPPS: My advice would be to continue to do well in school, excel in the STEM areas. And if you can, achieve higher degrees, but also have a complete life. You know, go camping, do those things, be very athletic in these things, learn another language. And, you know, once you’ve done all these things, make sure you have a career that you absolutely love and the only thing that can take you from that career would be getting into the Astronaut Corps. And then once you start applying for the Astronaut Corps, if you don’t get it the first time, keep applying, continue to apply and try again.

MS. EASTON: But you have to get an undergrad, you have to study science and math.

MS. EPPS: Yes. I would – yes. I would say science, technology, engineering and mathematics or even, you know, becoming a medical doctor as well is another route that a lot of people took. And that is included in the STEM. But I want to make sure that you know that being an engineer is a great route, being a medical doctor, a biologist, a chemist, all of these fields are great, or even becoming a fighter pilot yourself.

MS. EASTON: That works.

MS. EPPS: Yes. (Laughter.)

MS. EASTON: Online question: Does your training prepare you for long-duration flight around the Moon?

MS. EPPS: Yes, it does.

MS. EASTON: And describe that to a general audience here what that means.

MS. EPPS: Well, I think the way that we were training for the Soyuz is that – and we were training for – if we were on the space station and there’s six of us, we all had to be certified in Russian, certified in robotics, certified in being able to do a spacewalk, and that all means that you have to condition your body for doing a spacewalk, you have to practice the robotics. We’re not – we do have data from the Apollo era of what happened with the astronauts then, but we still have a lot of unknowns. So the training that we’re doing now is really just – you know, we’re training for the unknown and whatever may come at us in the future. We may find out something new on the Moon that we didn’t know before.

MS. EASTON: Right.

MS. EPPS: Radiation-wise, that could be an issue and we have to train differently for that.

MS. EASTON: So this is also an online question. At today’s rate of progress, who will win the race to Mars, U.S., China or SpaceX?

MS. EPPS: Well, with the government, things do go a little slower, but I do think that the concern for safety is very important. So things may go a little slower with the government, but I do think it will be as safe as we can get it.

SpaceX, I do think that they care about safety as well. And they are moving at a more – probably at a faster pace. I have – you know, Elon Musk says he’s going to do something and, you know, majority of the time he does it. So I don’t know who will get there first, but I do know that working with NASA to get there will be the safest route, I believe.

MS. EASTON: It’ll be more safe than SpaceX, is that what you’re –

MS. EPPS: Well, I wouldn’t – I can’t say safer than SpaceX or safer than this other company. I do know that NASA has a safety record and I do know that they will probably take longer to make sure that the safety regulations and everything that needs to happen will be in place. So I don’t want to say that it’ll be safer than SpaceX because I’m not sure what they’ll end up doing. Yeah.

MS. EASTON: Doing. Another good question from online: What popular movie or TV show best depicts what astronauts actually do during a mission? What’s the most realistic kind of movie or TV show you’ve seen?

MS. EPPS: Boy, that’s interesting. Well, I guess what I liken it to is that you’re living in space with friends and you’re conducting experiments. You’re basically the hands and the eyes for every principal investigator that has an experiment aboard the space station. And you’re living there as well. All your food is kind of uploaded through some visiting vehicle, so you get a lot of logistics, you get your clothes, you have to exercise, so, you know, it could be like living in a dorm almost, you know. So I don’t think – I don’t know of a television show that can mimic it as well. I mean, you’re living your life like in an apartment and you have your own little room. Food is upmassed, the food that you like is upmassed to you. You have to exercise. So I don’t know else to liken that to.

MS. EASTON: Describe the food.

MS. EPPS: Oh, the food is – it’s like military food. A lot of it is irradiated for safety purposes. But in general, you can get a lot of the foods that you like. I mean, there are still – you have sweet-and-sour chicken or something like that. You have rice. If you have one of the Japanese astronauts with you, you may have a curry dish, which is always nice. A lot of the Russian food is, you know, jellied fish or something like that, but it’s actually not that bad. (Laughter.)

MS. EASTON: What’s your favorite?

MS. EPPS: Oh, well, the Russians have – they have something like this Hungarian beef in a can that is not bad that I like.


MS. EPPS: And then the Europeans, if you have a European astronaut up there, you always have great food that’s made by some chef, like some lemon pudding or something or chocolate cake. So it’s not – the food isn’t bad. It’s like anything that you would eat here.

MS. EASTON: So what cool experiments are going on on the space station now?

MS. EPPS: Well, one of the things that I was involved in and looking at doing was a lot of the work with the rodents, with the mice, and doing genetic studies. So basically, you work with the little mice. And in Japan you’re just extracting a little blood from each mouse, and you’re sending it down, and you’re doing analysis on that and how they change in space. So that’s one of the cool things.

We have a combustion rack. We have a fluids rack. We have a MAGVEC (ph) rack. We do several different experiments in the European module right now.

And then there were several other things that we were going to do on each person. So looking at muscle density over the body and seeing how that changes as you’re on the space station using a special tool that was developed. So in general, there’s a ton of different experiments that’s done on the body, but then there’s material science experiments that are conducted as well. So there’s tons of things going on right now that are a lot of fun.

MS. EASTON: Great. So as we close tonight, give us your vision/argument for why manned space – or womaned – manned space travel is important, because there’s a lot of people who think we should be spending that money here on Earth. Why is it important?

MS. EPPS: Well, a lot of the research and things that are done are used to improve the life here on Earth as well. So everything that we do in space, a lot of it can be applied to our life here on Earth. And the best example that I like is the development of these bisphosphonates for osteoporosis. So one of the things is being on orbit your bone density goes down because you’re not – you don’t have gravity as loading your bones. And now that we do all of this exercise and we do resistive exercise, we don’t see that anymore. But there was also a drug that was developed to help mitigate that as well.

MS. EASTON: To help mitigate it in space that can apply –

MS. EPPS: It can apply to Earth, though, here.


MS. EPPS: So some osteoporosis patients can benefit from that right now. And so that’s one example of how all the things that we do for space can be applied here to make life better on Earth.

But also as, you know, the human race, I think that we are curious and we are explorers. We want to know more. We want to – you look up in the sky and you see the Moon and you see all the splotches on the Moon and try to figure out, well, what is that material? And then you send someone to the Moon, they bring back samples and you realize that’s basalt. And then you realize that there’s something impacted the Moon, and what could that have been? Could that have happened here on Earth? So answering questions as a human being, I think the curiosity in finding out more, figuring out what happened to this planet and why did it evolve the way it did I think is an age-old question that we’ve been asking ourselves for a long time as explorers. So I think that’s always going to continue and I don’t think that it’ll ever wane where people won’t be curious about what’s out there and what can we do to get there, how do we get there.

MS. EASTON: Well, Dr. Epps, we thank you for your service, for your curiosity and we wish you all the best in the next exciting chapter of your life. (Applause.)

Thank you all for joining us. This has been a terrific evening. Safe travels.