Making Black History: Jessica Watkins Will Be the First Black Woman to Work Extended Mission on ISS.
Today, at 33 years old, Jessica Watkins is training for a mission to do what she's always wanted to do; since attending an enrichment program at Sally Ride Elementary School: study the geology of other planets.
This April, Watkins is set to become the first Black woman to live and work on the International Space Station for an extended mission. She will arrive via SpaceX capsule and spend six months on the ISS as part of NASA's Artemis program, a multi-billion dollar effort designed to return humans to the surface of the moon in 2025.
"We are building on the foundation that was laid by the Black women astronauts who have come before me. I'm definitely honored to be a small part of that legacy, but ultimately be an equal member of the crew."-Jessica Watkins on NPR Morning Edition
Of the roughly 250 people who have boarded the ISS, fewer than 10 have been Black. Prior to the inception of the space station, Mae Jemison, an engineer and physician, became the first Black woman to travel to space in 1992. Other Black women have followed, including NASA astronauts Stephanie Wilson and Joan Higginbotham.
NASA selected Watkins for its astronaut program in 2017. As her qualifications include a bachelor's degree in geological and environmental sciences from Stanford University and a doctorate in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Watkins will study much more than space rocks on her six-month mission. Watkins will observe and photograph geological changes on Earth, space science, biological science and human research into things like the effects of long-duration spaceflight for humans. That's when the astronauts themselves become "the lab rats," Watkins told NPR.
Watkins said she's done training on the systems of the International Space Station and how to fix anything if it isn't working properly. Similarly to what we have seen in old-school commercials for NASA's Space camp, she's also practiced walking in space by wearing a puffy white suit in an underwater ISS mockup that's housed in a giant pool.
"We are all coming together to accomplish this really hard thing that none of us would be able to do on our own," Watkins said. "I think that is just such a beautiful picture of what we can all do if we come together and put all of our resources and skill sets together." -Jessica Watkins
Watkins said the journey to space has wide-ranging implications on everything from medical research "with direct impacts into our daily lives," to international collaboration. Even amid tensions here on Earth between Washington and Moscow over Ukraine, she notes, the U.S. portion of the ISS is docked to the Russian segment.