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Syracuse astronaut Jeannette Epps checks in from space

Kathy Hochul and Jeanette Epps interview through online meeting
Mike Groll
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Jeannette Epps speaks to Gov. Kathy Hochul from the International Space Station

Syracuse native Jeanette Epps has been hundreds of miles above Earth, at the International Space Station (ISS), for almost a month now, looking down on her home state.

"We can see New York, we've got a telephoto lens. There's been many great photos of the Fingerlakes from the space station. It's an amazing view," said the astronaut, in response to a question from a young girl sent in via Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Speaking via satellite with Hochul on Thursday morning, Epps said the crew of the ISS spends much of its time working hard. Namely, on a series of experiments, from how different materials burn in space, to how to offset the physical impact on humans of just being up there.

There are also drug trials, for instance on neuroinflammation, said Epps, with "tests that we can do in space, and compare the results [...] to the ones that are going on on the ground, and maybe it'll help us develop new drug therapy."

"We've got a lot of cool things that we're working on to help life back on Earth as well as in space," said the Le Moyne graduate.

However, the ISS crew does unwind, she said, with movie nights and over dinnertime conversations.

Epps is only the second African American woman to be part of a long-term ISS mission. In the U.S. and globally, men comprise the vast majority of astronauts, so she hopes to inspire more young girls into following her footsteps.

"I realized over my career, how many young ladies don't really believe that this is something for them or something that they can do. They don't think they have the right stuff to become an astronaut. But I'm here to tell them that we all do," said Epps.

"If it's your goal and your dream, but you don't have parents that were scientists or engineers....stay the course, to do the hard things. Everything is hard until you learn it," she said. "Pursue your dreams don't back down, no matter what."

Epps will be in space during next week’s total solar eclipse, and one thing she and the crew will have in common with us Earthlings, she says, is that "we won't be able to look directly at the sun."

Looking at it from their vantage point, said Epps, "and taking photos may help give astrophysicist and astronomers different, a different perspective on it, and we may learn some things out of it."

Natasha Senjanovic teaches radio broadcasting at the Newhouse School while overseeing student journalists at WAER and creating original reporting for the station. She can also be heard hosting All Things Considered some weekday afternoons.