A 33-year-old NASA astronaut will be the first Black woman to live and work at the International Space Station, NASA announced earlier this month
Jessica Watkins will depart in April 2022 with three other astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Robert Hines of NASA, and Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, according to NASA. She is assigned to serve as a mission specialist on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4, which will last for six months.
Watkins was born in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and raised in Lafayette, Colorado, The New York Times reported. She later graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelor of Science in Geological and Environmental Sciences and then from the University of California, Los Angeles with a Doctorate in Geology.
This will be Black woman Watkins’ first time in space.
The 33-year-old joined the Astronaut Candidate Class in 2017 where she underwent two years of training. According to her biography on NASA’s website, her 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 told The Times that she hopes her mission will inspire children of color, and “particularly young girls of color, to be able to see an example of ways that they can participate and succeed.”
“For me, that’s been really important, and so if I can contribute to that in some way, that’s definitely worth it,” she added.
Watkins is also set to step foot on 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.
NASA sent the first Black American, Guion S. Bluford, to space in 1983. Mae Jemison was the first Black woman to enter space in 1992 with the Space Shuttle Endeavor team.
In 2018, astronaut Jeanette Epps was meant to become the first Black woman to join the ISS crew, but NASA replaced her with Serena Auñón-Chancellor instead, The Times reported. It’s unclear why NASA made the switch.