Two decades after the International Space Station became humanity’s long lasting home in orbit, Jessica Watkins, a NASA astronaut, is poised to become the first Black woman to join its crew for a long-term mission, reports the New York Times.
NASA announced Tuesday that Dr. Watkins, a geologist raised in Lafayette, Colo., would serve as a mission specialist on SpaceX’s next astronaut flight, known as Crew-4, to the space station. She will join two other NASA astronauts and an Italian astronaut for a six-month mission aboard the orbital lab that is scheduled to start in April.
In an interview, Dr. Watkins said she hoped going to the space station would set an example for children of color, and “particularly young girls of color, to be able to see an example of ways that they can participate and succeed.”
She added, “For me, that’s been really important, and so if I can contribute to that in some way, that’s definitely worth it.”
Only seven of the 249 people who have boarded the space station since its creation in 2000 were Black. Victor Glover, a Navy commander and test pilot who joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013, became the first Black crew member in a regular long-duration mission at the station; his mission started last year. The six Black astronauts who had visited the space station before Glover were part of space shuttle crews that stayed for roughly 12 days.
“Exploring space beyond L.E.O. is a huge effort, and we have to have the participation from all parts of our society,” Ken Bowersox, a senior official in NASA’s space operations wing and a former astronaut, said during an event last week, 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 assignment. She has completed spacewalk simulations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and learned the ins and outs of the space station, a football-field-size science laboratory 260 miles above Earth.
“It is certainly not lost on me that we’ve arrived in this moment in history,” she said of being the first Black woman to carry out a long-duration mission. “This moment is not as worthwhile if we are not able to focus on the job and perform well.”