Jessica Watkins is set to make history next year. When NASA’s Crew-4 mission launches in 2022, she will become one of a handful of Black astronauts ever to circle the planet and the first Black woman ever to join the International Space Station crew to live and work onboard the floating outpost.
Denise Chow of NBC News reported that NASA “announced on Tuesday, Nov. 16, that Watkins will fly to the space station in April 2022, alongside NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Robert Hines and astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency.”
According to Chow, “they are slated to launch aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission, known as Crew-4, is expected to last six months.”
Watkins began her career as a geologist with an undergraduate degree from Stanford University and a doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles. She will serve as a “mission specialist” on the Crew-4 flight, which will be her first trip into space.
“Last year, Watkins was chosen to join a select group of NASA astronauts leading the agency’s multibillion-dollar Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon,” Chow reported. “As part of the initiative, NASA is expected to land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface by 2025.”
In a video she recorded with NASA last year, prior to being selected for her April flight, Watkins spoke about her dreams of one day making it into space.
“A dream feels like a big, faraway goal that is going to be difficult to achieve, and something that you might achieve much later in life,” Watkins said. “But in reality, what a dream is — or a dream realized is — is just putting one foot in front of the other on a daily basis. And if you put enough of those footprints together, eventually they become a path towards your dreams.”
In 2020, Victor Glover became the first Black astronaut to participate in a long-term mission on the International Space Station.
“In 2018, NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps was expected to become the first Black astronaut — man or woman — to launch on an extended mission at the space station, but she was unexpectedly replaced less than six months before the flight,” Chow reported. “NASA did not offer an explanation for the switch, and The Washington Post reported at the time that Epps’ brother blamed racism at the space agency for the abrupt crew change.”