NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins made history Thursday, becoming the first Black woman to participate in a long-duration mission on the International Space Station.
The Colorado native and geologist boarded ISS from a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, which launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center Wednesday atop a Falcon 9 rocket.
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“I think it really is just a tribute to the legacy of the Black women astronauts that have come before me, as well as to the exciting future ahead,” Watkins told NPR earlier this week. “For me, growing up, it was important to me to have role models in roles that I aspire to be in, contributing in ways I aspired to contribute. So to the extent that I’m able to do that, I’m honored and grateful for the opportunity to return the favor.”
Watkins is also one of 18 astronauts chosen for NASA’s Artemis program, which will put the first woman and person of color on the moon, perhaps as soon as 2026. The first Artemis mission will be uncrewed and is expected to launch later this year.
Watkins’ Crew-4 colleagues on ISS Expedition 67 include mission commander Kjell Lindgren, pilot Robert Hines, and European Space Agency (ESA) mission specialist Samantha Cristoforetti. During the mission, they’ll spend about six months aboard the ISS.
It’s not only Watkins’ first launch, but also the first for Hines. Lindgren and Cristoforetti have been to the ISS before. Crew-4’s ISS arrival comes less than two days after the return of the first all-private mission to the station.
Both missions “exemplify the spirit and success of the Commercial Crew Program to help maximize use of low-Earth orbit for years to come, testing the technologies we need for the Artemis program and beyond,” said a statement by Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate.
Regular rotation missions to ISS support research and technology development that lays groundwork for NASA’s missions to the moon and Mars.Watkins, who will serve as a flight engineer during the mission, grew up in Lafayette, Colorado, and studied geology at Stanford University and UCLA. Her expertise surrounds the surface of Mars, including a stint as a science team collaborator on the Curiosity Mars rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.