Jessica Watkins, a NASA astronaut, is set to become the first Black woman to serve on the International Space Station’s crew for an extended period of time, two decades after the space station was established as humanity’s long-term home in orbit.
Doctor Watkins, a geologist reared in Lafayette, Colorado, will serve as a mission specialist on SpaceX’s next astronaut trip to the International Space Station, known as Crew-4, NASA said on Tuesday. Dr. Watkins is a geologist raised in Lafayette, Colorado. She will go to the International Space Station with two other NASA astronauts and an Italian astronaut for a six-month mission that will begin in April aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Dr. Watkins said in an interview that she hoped her trip to the space station will serve as a role model for children of colour, especially young girls of colour, by providing them with “a tangible example of how they may engage in and achieve in the space programme.”
Guion S. Bluford became the first African-American to travel to space in 1983, and Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman to fly to space in 1992, becoming the first Black woman to do so. Ed Dwight, an Air Force pilot, served as NASA’s first Black astronaut trainee in 1961, although he was ultimately passed over for selection. Sian Proctor, a part of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 amateur astronaut mission, which flew to orbit but did not dock with the International Space Station, made history by becoming the first Black woman to control a spacecraft in September.
The first Black woman to live and operate on the International Space Station, Jeanette Epps, a NASA astronaut, was originally scheduled to make history in 2018. However, for reasons that NASA has not disclosed, she was replaced by another astronaut instead. She will continue to be assigned to the International Space Station for a six-month mission as part of the first operational astronaut crew to fly Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the space station. The creation of such capsule, on the other hand, is many years behind schedule. This summer, a malfunctioning set of valves on Starliner’s propulsion system was identified just before an uncrewed test launch, further delaying Dr. Epps’s voyage until late 2022 at the earliest, according to the space agency.
Dr. Watkins finished her undergraduate studies at Stanford University and went on to receive a PhD at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she conducted research on landslides on Mars and on the surface of the planet. After working with NASA’s research laboratories on projects such as the Mars Curiosity rover mission, she was invited to join the astronaut corps in 2017. She was selected to the astronaut corps in 2017. Her desire to become an astronaut, she said, had been “something I had dreamt of for a very long time ever since I was a small girl, but it was absolutely not something I imagined would ever come true.”
NASA picked her last year as one of 18 astronauts to represent the agency’s Artemis programme, which is a multibillion-dollar endeavour to return people to the moon’s surface by 2025. She will be the first female astronaut and the first person of colour to walk on the moon. The astronauts that NASA dispatched to the moon during the Apollo programme were all white males, as was the case during the Mercury mission. In recent years, NASA has worked to make its astronaut programmes more reflective of the general population of the United States of America.
Dr. Watkins had been preparing for a mission to space for some months before to being assigned to the crew. She has done spacewalk simulations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and has become familiar with the space station, which is the size of a football field and 260 miles above the Earth.