Astronaut Jessica Watkins preps for liftoff, making history with extended stay on space station

The Colorado-born astronaut will serve as a mission specialist with the four-person crew

Jessica Watkins will soon make history when she becomes the first Black woman to join the International Space Station for her first trip to space. 

As previously reported by theGrio, the Colorado-born astronaut will serve as a mission specialist with the four-person crew on board the new SpaceX Crew Dragon named Freedom. Per the Orlando Sentinal, liftoff is from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39-A is set for Saturday, April 23, at 5:26 a.m.

Jessica Watkins
Jessica Watkins (Credit: NASA/Twitter)

“We get to be the representatives, the kind of tip of the spear if you will, of an enormous team of people,” Watkins said, per the report. “For me, I am just really honored to be part of the long legacy of Black astronauts and Black women astronauts who came before me. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a small part in that toward an exciting future as well.”

Watkins will be joined by fellow NASA astronauts Commander Kjell Lindgren, pilot Robert Hines, and European Space Agency mission specialist Samantha Cristoforetti. Their mission is expected to last six months.

The 33-year-old previously told The New York Times that becoming an astronaut was “something I dreamed about for a very long time ever since I was pretty little, but definitely not something I thought would ever happen.”

In 2017, NASA selected Watkins, a geologist, as one of its first class of astronaut candidates out of a record number of 18,300 applicants. Only twelve people made it to the final class, and Watkins was the only Black woman in the group

Watkins majored in mechanical engineering at Stanford and then switched to studying planetary geology, which was more in line with her passions. She graduated from UCLA with her doctorate in geology and started working on the Mars rover. In an interview with The Times, she noted the importance of representation in science and space expiration, particularly so young girls “see an example of ways that they can participate and succeed.”

Moon USA
(Photo by NASA/Newsmakers)

“As a geologist, that’s my background. I’m super excited for the opportunity to just observe the Earth and kind of use the unique vantage point, the unique perspective that we can get from the ISS to be able to observe geologic features and processes,” she said, per Orlando Sentinal. 

Her crewmates have nicknamed her “Watty,” and Lindgren said she “has no idea how annoying we’re going to be” during the mission. 

“It’s so amazing to look out of the cupola, to look at the ground, the see the Earth, and constantly be wondering ‘How did that happen?’ … now we have our own crew geologist that we’re going to be calling to the window constantly. I know she says she’s going to be happy to do it, but I think we’re going to test her patience.”

TheGrio is now on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today!