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1st Native American woman to go to space inspires crowd in hometown of Petaluma

Astronaut Nicole Mann returns home to Petaluma to speak to community
Astronaut Nicole Mann returns home to Petaluma to speak to community 03:12

The first Native American woman in space, Nicole Mann spoke to a rapt crowd of fans in her hometown of Petaluma at the Petaluma Woman's Club Tuesday.

She returned to Earth earlier this year after spending six months aboard the International Space Station.

"I think there's a great responsibility that comes with that and it goes back to communicating with the younger generation, especially young indigenous women and kids throughout the world that, unfortunately maybe they live in an area where they don't realize that we have astronauts living in space continuous for over 23 years," said Mann.

Mann conducted hundreds of experiments including cardiovascular health tests, and technology demonstrations alongside her crew.

She entertained the crowd with stories about everyday life, including the food she ate and daily workouts. She also spoke about how she didn't really think about becoming an astronaut when she was a child.

"Actually for me, it wasn't until later on in life," said Mann. "So I was interested in math and science and space as a kid but I had never met an astronaut, I didn't know what they really did."

The US Naval Academy and Stanford University graduate said she pursued a career as an astronaut after flying fighter jets in the Marine Corps.

Meeting an astronaut left an impression on many young people in the audience. 

"It's really impressive that she was able to go off and do this and it gives me hope that maybe I can go off and do something very important as well," said 15-year-old sophomore Emily Bendzick. "I would like to do something similar to her, I'm interested in engineering fields and space and things like that."

Mann said she was able to overcome any self-doubt or barriers along the way with the support of her family who lives in the Petaluma and Rohnert Park area.  

Mann's father was also in attendance.

"Just being there and supporting her, it wasn't really anything I did, it's just being a sounding board," said Howard Aunapu.

"It's funny her mother told her when she was pretty young, someday you'll be famous," he added.

Mann lives in Houston where she trains. She said she would love to return to the International Space Station in a few years, or even to the moon as part of NASA's Artemis mission.

As for what she missed the most while she was in space?

"You can't smell the grass, you can't smell the ocean, you can't smell the breeze, you can't smell your food, you can if you put it very close to your nose but because there's no thermal gradience heat doesn't rise," Mann said. "So I missed smells and I missed the wind, feeling the wind on your face."

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