NASA rookie astronaut Jessica Watkins, Ph.D. from UCLA and formerly at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, will serve next year aboard the International Space Station, becoming the first black woman to be crewed on board. orbital station.
Watkins will be a member of the fourth crew launched to Space-X from Hawthorne under a commercial contract with NASA. According to NASA, a geologist by profession, Watkins will serve as the mission specialist for Crew-4.
She joined NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Robert Hines and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. They are slated to launch in April 2022 on the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which is launched into space using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The crew will spend six months on the space station, making Watkins the first black woman to complete long-term service in outer space. Other black women have flown into space, but have never been a permanent member of the space station’s crew.
Watkins was born in Maryland but raised in Lafayette, Colorado, according to NASA. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Geology and Environmental Science from Stanford University and a PhD in Geology from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he completed his studies on “the mechanisms of the placement of large landslides on Mars and Earth.”
She interned at NASA, then worked at the Space Agency’s Ames Research Center and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She was also a Research Fellow in the Department of Geological and Planetary Sciences at California Institute of Technology, working on the Curiosity rover. She was also an assistant coach-volunteer for the California Institute of Technology women’s basketball team.
In an interview with the New York Times, Watkins said she hopes the trip to the space station will set an example for children of color and “especially girls of color” who can see an example of how they can participate and be successful. … “
She added, “It was very important to me, and so if I can contribute in some way, it is definitely worth it.”
Only seven of the 249 people who have visited the space station since its inception in 2000 have been black. Victor Glover, a Pomona native, Navy commander and test pilot who joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2013, became the first black crew member on a regular long-term mission to the station; his mission began last year. The six black astronauts who visited the space station before Glover were part of the space shuttle crews that stayed there for about 12 days.
In 1983, Guyon S. Bluford became the first black American to travel into space, and Mae Jamison was the first black woman to do so in 1992. In 1961, Ed Dwight, an Air Force pilot, was NASA’s first black intern astronaut. but he was not selected. In September, Sian Proctor, a member of the SpaceX Inspiration4 amateur astronaut mission, which entered orbit but not a space station, became the first black woman to pilot a spacecraft.
Janet Epps, a NASA astronaut, was originally supposed to be the first black woman to live and work on a space station in 2018. But she was replaced by another astronaut for reasons that NASA did not explain. She continues to have a six-month mission with the first operational astronaut crew to deliver a Boeing Starliner capsule to the station. But the development of this capsule is years behind schedule. This summer, a faulty set of valves found in the Starliner propulsion system ahead of a bare-bones test launch further postponed the Epps mission until late 2022.
Watkins graduated with an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles, studying landslides on Mars and Earth. She has worked with NASA science labs on projects including the Mars Curiosity rover mission, and joined the astronaut corps in 2017. To become an astronaut, she said, was “what I have dreamed of for a very long time since childhood. but definitely not what I thought would ever happen. “
City News Service and the New York Times contributed to this report.