NASA is gearing up to send the very first Black woman to the International Space Station. Meet 33-year-old Jessica Watkins. The buzzing astronaut will blast off into space in April 2022 alongside three other astronauts — Kjell Lindgren, Samantha Cristoforetti, and Robert Hines of NASA. The historic space explorer will spend six months up in the cosmos working as a mission specialist on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4. This is Watkins’ first time venturing into outer space.
During a recent interview with The New York Times, the Lafayette, Colorado native said that she hopes the mission will inspire other children of color to dream big, “particularly young girls of color, to be able to see an example of ways that they can participate and succeed,” she added. “For me, that’s been really important, and so if I can contribute to that in some way, that’s definitely worth it.”
The New York Times noted that only seven Black people have boarded the prestigious space station “since its creation in 2000.” In 2013, former Navy commander and test pilot Victor Glover joined NASA’s astronaut corps cementing his name in history books as the first Black crew member to join an extended mission at the space station last year.
Watkins now follows in the footsteps of Glover, in addition to Both Guion S. Bluford and Mae Jemison who were the first Black Americans to travel into deep space in 1983 and 1992 respectively.
Watkins was born in Maryland but was raised by her family in Layette, Colorado. After graduating from Stanford University with a Bachelor of Science in Geological and Environmental Sciences, she then went on to receive her Doctorate in Geology at the University of California in Los Angeles. Watkins eventually joined the Astronaut Candidate Class in 2017 and underwent two years of extensive training for the forthcoming deep space voyage. It wasn’t easy either. According to her biography on NASA’s website, the tough training “included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, spacewalks, robotics, physiological training, T-38 flight training, water and wilderness survival training, geology training, and expeditionary skills training.”
Watkins is just getting started too, because after she completes her mission on the International Space Station, the busy astronaut is set to head to the moon with the Artemis team in 2024, according to Space.com. NASA astronauts haven’t been on the moon since the final Apollo mission in 1972. Details on the coveted mission have not been released as of yet.