BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Jessica Watkins will be the first Black female astronaut to join the crew for a long-term mission.
NASA just announced Watkins as the fourth crew member of the Crew-4 mission heading to the International Space Station in April 2022.
“A dream feels like a big far away goal. This is gonna be difficult to achieve and something that you might achieve much later in life,” Watkins said.
At 33 years old, her dream of going to outer space came true after being named by NASA to join three fellow astronauts and head to space in April 2022.
“She’ll be the fifth African American woman to fly in space but the first to make a long-duration stay aboard the international space station,” said Bill Harwood, a space analyst for CBS. “She has a Ph.D. in geology, she went to Stanford as an undergraduate, worked on the Mars curiosity rover out of the jet propulsion laboratory —extremely accomplished scientist.”
Watkins, a native of Maryland and raised in Lafayette, Colorado, will spend six months on the International Space Station.
“For me, as somebody who is really interested in the planets, geology provided a means for me to study the surface of another planet particularly look at Mars which was my passion,” Watkins said.
Since the creation of the space station 20 years ago, NASA has been trying to diversify space mission opportunities for astronauts.
“If you look over the entire history of the U.S. space program, only 10 American men, African American men, have even flown in space at all, and only four American women who are African American. So, Jessica is gonna be the fifth,” Harwood said.
Only seven of the 249 people who have boarded the space station since 2000 were Black. The first Black crew member in a long-duration mission was Victor Glover, a Navy commander and test pilot of the 2013 class.
“I think in this case it kind of brings to mind what I hear from astronauts from time to time — the real milestone is when we don’t consider things like this a milestone. We’re not there yet but we’re getting closer,” Harwood said.
Watkins will serve as a mission specialist on the agency’s upcoming SpaceX Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station. It will be her first trip to space following her selection as an astronaut in 2017.
Watkins is also among 18 astronauts named by NASA to represent the Artemis program, a multibillion-dollar effort to return humans, including the first woman and the first person of color, to the moon in 2025.