Two decades after the International Space Station became humanity’s long-term home in orbit, NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins is preparing to become the first black woman to join her crew on a long-term mission.
NASA announced Tuesday that Dr. Watkins, a geologist who grew up in Lafayette, Colorado, will serve as a critical specialist on SpaceX’s upcoming astronauts’ flight, known as Crew-4, to the space station. She will join two other NASA astronauts and an Italian astronaut on a six-month mission aboard the orbiting laboratory set to begin in April.
In an interview, Dr. Watkins said she hopes going to the space station will set an example for children of color, and “especially young girls of color, to be able to see an example of the ways in which they can participate and succeed.”
She added, “For me, that was really important, and so if I can contribute to that in some way, it’s definitely worth it.”
Only seven of the 249 people who have boarded the space station since its inception in 2000 have been black. Victor Glover, a Navy captain and test pilot who joined NASA’s Astronaut Corps in 2013, became the first black crew member on a regular, long-duration mission to the station; His mission began last year. The six black astronauts who visited the space station before Mr. Glover were part of the space shuttle crews that stayed for about 12 days.
In 1983, he became Guion S., but he was not selected. In September, Sian Proctor, a member of SpaceX’s amateur astronaut mission Inspiration 4 that went to orbit but not to the space station, became the first black woman to serve as a spacecraft pilot.
NASA astronaut Janet Epps was initially named the first black woman to live and work on the space station, in 2018. But she was replaced by another astronaut for reasons that NASA hasn’t explained. It is still scheduled for a six-month mission as part of the first operational astronaut crew to fly a Boeing Starliner capsule to the station. But development of that capsule is years behind schedule. This summer, it discovered a faulty set of valves in the Starliner’s propulsion system prior to a crewless test launch, delaying Dr. Epps’ mission to late 2022 at the earliest.
Dr. Watkins completed her undergraduate studies at Stanford University and received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, studying landslides on Mars and Earth. She’s worked with NASA’s Science Laboratories, on projects including the Mars Curiosity rover, and joined the team of astronauts in 2017. Becoming an astronaut, she said, was “something I’ve dreamed about for a very long time since I was very young, but certainly not.” Something I ever thought would happen.”
Last year, she was among 18 astronauts selected by NASA to represent the agency’s Artemis program, a multibillion-dollar effort to return humans, including the first woman and first people of color, to the lunar surface in 2025. NASA astronauts were sent to the moon during the Apollo program They were all white men. In recent years, the agency has sought to make its astronaut programs more representative of the American population.
During last week’s event, Ken Powersox, a senior official in NASA’s Space Operations Wing and former astronaut, said, referring to the agency’s goals beyond low Earth orbit.
Dr. Watkins had been training for a trip to space for months before her crew was assigned. I completed a spacewalk simulation at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and learned the ins and outs of the space station, a science laboratory the size of a football field 260 miles above Earth.
Of being the first black woman to undertake a long-term mission, she said, “It certainly didn’t fail me that we had reached this moment in history.” “This moment isn’t worth it if we can’t focus on the job and doing well.”