Higher, Further, Faster

Penngrove Woman Goes to Space

by Opal Guerrero and Remy Lakritz

Nicole Aunapu Mann, the first Native American woman to go to space, grew up in Penngrove, just 10 minutes away from Petaluma. After graduating from Rancho Cotate High School, Aunapu Mann then attended the U.S. Naval Academy, where she earned her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. After the Academy, she went to Stanford University and received a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. As an experienced pilot, she became part of the NASA space program, where she trained to be an astronaut and worked on developing spacecrafts. Aunapu Mann finally went beyond the clouds last month on Oct. 5, 2022, when she flew on a SpaceX mission to the International Space Station for a six month stay.

Howard Aunapu, Aunapu Mann’s father, has always supported his daughter in achieving her goals. Aunapu is proud of her for the idea she sends to her supporters by being the first Native American woman to go beyond the atmosphere.

“It sends such a good positive message, not only to Native American girls, but to all girls: there’s a lot you can do,” Aunapu said. Aunapu Mann has been a living example of the drive to always see what else awaits. “I think what influenced her is her desire to open up as many doors ahead of her as she could and see what’s there,” said Aunapu.

Many people may fear having their child go into outer space because of all the unknowns, but Aunapu thinks the opposite. “It’s exciting; she has been an astronaut for nine years now [and] she worked on the Boeing Starliner for four years. [However,] they just kept having issue after issue and it never flew,” Aunapu said.

NASA moved Aunapu Mann to the SpaceX mission in October 2021 and she is now in the running to be the first woman on the Moon with the Artemis program.