NASA Astronaut Jessica Watkins Will Be First Black Woman to Join International Space Station Crew

NASA announced on Tuesday that they have selected Jessica Watkins to serve as a mission specialist on the SpaceX Crew-4 mission slated for April 2022

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins is scheduled to fly to space for the first time as part of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 mission launching to the International Space Station.
Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Jessica Watkins is set to make space exploration history next year!

NASA announced on Tuesday that they have selected Watkins to serve as a mission specialist on the SpaceX Crew-4 mission slated for April 2022. In doing so, the Colorado-born astronaut will become the first Black woman to join a crew for a long-term mission on the International Space Station.

The mission aboard the Crew Dragon capsule is expected to last six months.

In an interview with The New York Times, Watkins said that she hopes her accomplishment will help children of color, particularly young girls, "to be able to see an example of ways that they can participate and succeed."

Astronaut Jessica Watkins observes Underway Recovery Test-8 aboard the USS John P. Murtha. During the test, NASA’s Landing and Recovery Team practiced bringing Orion into the well deck of the ship to ensure recovery procedure timelines are validated as NASA plans to send Artemis I around the Moon and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
Jessica Watkins. NASA/Frank Michaux

"For me, that's been really important, and so if I can contribute to that in some way, that's definitely worth it," the astronaut continued.

Watkins was first selected as an astronaut in 2017 while serving as a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology, according to NASA. There, the Stanford University graduate was a member of the Science Team for the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity.

NASA astronaut candidate Jessica Watkins in a spacesuit prior to underwater spacewalk training at NASA Johnson Space Centerís Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston. Photo Credit: (NASA/Norah Moran)
Jessica Watkins. NASA/Norah Moran

Before getting her start with NASA as an intern, Watkins earned her doctorate in geology at the University of California in Los Angeles, where she researched "the emplacement mechanisms of large landslides on Mars and Earth," according to the agency.

Watkins told the Times that becoming an astronaut was "something I dreamed about for a very long time ever since I was pretty little, but definitely not something I thought would ever happen."

"It is certainly not lost on me that we've arrived in this moment in history," she added. "This moment is not as worthwhile if we are not able to focus on the job and perform well."

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NASA portrait of 2017 Astronaut Candidate Jessica Watkins in front of a T-38 trainer aircraft at Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Jessica Watkins. Robert Markowitz/NASA

Watkins will be joined by fellow NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Robert Hines on the upcoming mission, per NASA's announcement. European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will also be part of the crew.

Jeanette Epps was originally set to become the first Black woman to live and work on the International Space Station for a long-term mission in June 2018, but was pulled from the crew in January, per The Washington Post.

Epps is still expected to partake in the first operational flight of Boeing's Starliner space capsule, according to NBC News. A date for the launch has yet to be announced.

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