With her very first launch into space, Jessica Watkins is already breaking barriers.
The 33-year-old NASA astronaut will make history this April when she becomes the first Black woman to go on an extended mission in space. She will launch to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule to spend six months living and working on the spacecraft as a mission specialist for NASA’s Artemis program, which revolves around sending humans to the moon in 2025.
“I think it’s important to recognize this as a milestone for our agency and for our country, as well, to know that we are building on the foundation that was laid by the Black woman astronauts who’ve come before me,” Watkins told NPR’s Morning Edition. “I’m definitely honored to be a small part of that legacy, but ultimately be an equal member of the crew.”
Watkins joins an elite crew of Black female astronauts — of the 250 people who have boarded the ISS, fewer than 10 of them have been Black, according to NPR. She follows in the footsteps of NASA astronauts Stephanie Wilson, Joan Higginbotham and Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel to space in 1992 (before the creation of the ISS).
Over the course of her six-month mission, Watkins, alongside three other astronauts, will observe and photograph geological features on Earth and conduct a wide range of studies around biological science, human physiology and space science.
“We can look through the windows and take awesome pictures,” Watkins said. “And it allows us to track changes over time and to see features that we’re not able to see from other assets that we have.”
Watkins caught the astronaut bug during an enrichment program at Sally Ride Elementary School in her hometown of Maryland, she told the public radio network. Armed with degrees from Stanford University and a doctorate in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles, she was selected for NASA’s program in 2017.