When the International Space Station (ISS) selected astronaut Dr. Jessica Watkins to join their research mission, Watkins knew she was standing on others’ shoulders. As a child, she studied her ancestor’s contributions to space and made plans to join them historically. Watkins is the first Black woman to spend six months in space. The Colorado resident was born in Maryland but graduated from high school in Boulder. Her parents still remain in Colorado.
Watkins’s mission launched on April 27, 2022. Prior to her blast off, she worked as a researcher at NASA. She also worked as a science team leader for people studying the planet Mars.
There have been seven African Americans who have worked with ISS during their careers. Watkins told National Public Radio that she did not mind being a role model for today’s generation of future astronauts.
Watkins studied the likes of the first Black man in space, Guion Bluford, who launched off in 1983, and Chicago’s own Dr. Mae Jemison, who was the first Black woman to travel to space in 1992 on the STS-47 for seven days.
NASA has changed drastically in 39 years, and its goal was to send more missions to space before 2025. In 2020, the first Black man to have trained and orbited on a similar mission was Victor Glover, who traveled on SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission.
Watkins was selected in November 2021 to be a member of the Crew Dragon for the SpaceX Crew-4 mission. In 2017, she was selected for special training with NASA. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Watkins is a part of the Artemis Program, which includes special training for those astronauts going to the moon. There have been 248 astronauts trained for ISS and only seven have been of color.
This story was completed with the assistance of future astronaut, 10-year-old Jordan-Amman West-Williams